Our country has been hindered and devastated by the tragedy of Australian bushfires.
While most of the fires have been extinguished, the severe damage done to our environment, wildlife and communities is prevalent and ongoing. We are facing a massive rebuilding effort, but may be unable to reclaim some of the native species lost in the blazes.
But in the wake of rain downpours on the east coast, tiny emerald green growths are beginning to emerge from blackened bushland. Nature is, slowly but surely, making a comeback in our area.
The resilience of nature may indeed save us—if, that is, we devise a plan of action for a greener, more sustainable future.
The climate is worsening all the time, with natural disasters such as bushfires, storms, floods and cyclones devastating cities, businesses, houses, and public infrastructure—threatening the physical, social, and economic health of communities and nations.
Beyond the threat that these disasters pose to lives and property, these disasters result in weakened economies, financial issues, business disruptions, transportation delays, stresses and anxiety—things that can’t be fixed through simple repairs.
In light of these problems, we must transform the manner in which we plan, approve, build and rebuild cities and towns. We must design these places with hazard mitigation and disaster resilience concerns under consideration.
Researchers define ecological resilience as the degree of disturbance that an ecosystem can endure without shifting self-organised processes and structures. The Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities defines resilience the overall ability to be prepared but flexible, dynamic and swift to respond.
As opposed to manufacturing a ‘replacement method’ of resilience, in which hindered components of a system are substituted for better ones, critical infrastructures and buildings must be designed to take more of an impact, thus facilitating recovery from natural disasters.
The Australian Government has pledged the amount of $2 billion to deal with the impact of the 2019-2020 bushfires. Of this money, $100 million has been designated to facilitate emergency support for farm, fishing and forestry in bushfire afflicted regions, $76 million will be designated for mental health aid for bushfire victims, volunteers, emergency service and medical staff.
And the NSW Government has pledged its own $1 billion fund (in addition to an existing $200 million commitment) to aid the rebuilding of fire-impacted communities across the region. The funds will be applied to the repair and rebuilding of infrastructure like roads, railway lines, bridges, schools, health clinics and communications facilities.
The Premier stated that her Government’s funds would be used to enhance infrastructure, while Federal cash would go to the people.
The Prime Minister declared that the final cost of the bushfires probably would rival the $5.6 billion paid in disaster recovery assistance throughout six years in the wake of Cyclone Yasi and the Brisbane floods in 2011.
The 2016 Deloitte Access Economics report for the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities states that between 2002-03 and 2010-11, more than $450 million was spent annually by Australian governments to restore critical infrastructure in the wake of extreme weather occurrences. That equals a $3.6 billion expenditure in eight years. We must at this point review our disaster resilience and mitigation strategies so that we can more successfully cope with storms, flood, fire and severe heat waves, through living infrastructure tools such as green roofs, green walls and facades, bioswales and rain gardens.
And we must brainstorm sustainable ways to address certain issues. Stormwater run-off happens when rain or snow isn’t capable of absorbing into the earth where it descends, accumulating and flowing over ground and non-absorbent surfaces and into drains, sewers, or waterways.
In urban communities in which streams, floodplains and wetlands have been supplanted by land development, fill and impermeable surfaces, the pressure on traditional stormwater management intensifies.
Stormwater can overflow, flood, erode the banks of waterways, land and lead to habitat loss and a shift in a waterway’s essential morphology.
With the rain falls pollutants that could encompass dust, sediment, garbage, oil, heavy metals, toxic chemicals from vehicles, pesticides and fertilisers, and viruses and bacteria from animal waste. Yet the more permeable the surface, the less run-off will accumulate. Permeable (or absorbent) surfaces absorb rainwater where it descends, lessening the risk of flood and the quantity of contaminated run-off going into drains and waterways.
Natural permeable landscapes, such as meadows and forests, can absorb as much as 90% of the rain they get, while traditional streets, car parks, rooftops, and other hard impenetrable surfaces repel stormwater and stop this water from seeping into the land.
Living infrastructure delays and retains stormwater by way of infiltration (in green roofs, rain gardens, pervious surfaces, etc.) and evapotranspiration emanating from trees and vegetation.
Vegetated roofs can regulate a large percentage of the volume and rate of stormwater runoff, from 30-90 percent.
Intermingling these methods could alleviate stress on stormwater systems and lessen flood risk. In New York, for example, where the Department of Parks & Recreation maintains about 2,500 green streets, many of which withstood Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
A 2013 study completed on behalf of the U.S Department of Homeland Security discovered that the adoption of green infrastructure as a flood mitigation tool can save about $6.1 million dollars per year in flood-resistant regions.
When we regard stormwater as a resource as opposed to a problem, we will have additional water to nourish plants and ecosystem to battle dry tinder-like conditions that ignite bushfires.
We are all aware that urbanisation has produced the urban heat island effect. The hotter it gets, the more incidences of heat stroke and related deaths in urban populations we see.
Europe suffered two extreme heatwaves in June and July 2019. Temperature records were broken in Spain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
In France, health minister Agnes Buzyn reported an excess of 1,500 deaths in conjunction with the 2019 heatwaves, with 60 drowning-related deaths being counted as people dove into the water to escape the heat.
In 2003, a second European heatwave took an approximate 70,000 lives, while 700 perished in the 1995 Chicago heat wave. As climate change progresses, these extreme temperatures will strike more often.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO report said that Australia’s climate has warmed more than 1°C since the year 1910, producing an increase in the quantity of extreme heat occurrences and a lengthy increase in extreme fire weather and the duration of the fire season across sizable regions of Australia.
Living infrastructure such as green walls and facades, green roofs, trees and parks can negotiate this heat through evapotranspiration and shading. One study discovered that by placing 10% more green cover in highly dense residential areas in Manchester, United Kingdom, maximum surface temperatures could be maintained at or below 1961–1990 baseline levels in the 2080s. That’s a major issue when one considers the fact that the projected climate change increase is 1.7°C to 3.7°C.
Living infrastructure can be merged with grey infrastructure (pipes, drains, building structures and roads, water treatment facilities, stormwater systems, etc.) to further the lifetime and usefulness of these grey assets by providing the first line of defence for a variety of weather and climate events.
In the wake of this horrific fire season, we must rise like a phoenix from the flames; learning from the mistakes we made in the past, examining the scientific facts and predictions at our disposal and—most of all—working together to create a better, safer country and world.