Cyclone Yasi. Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video.

Dollars for disasters

21 November 2012

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Leo Dobes is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the Crawford School of Public Policy.

Funding emergency shelter for pets in the aftermath of a cyclone is too high a price to pay, but people are willing to dip into their pockets for faster resupply of utilities and fresh food, according to new research.

The study led by Adjunct Associate Professor Leo Dobes with Dr Gabriela Scheufele and Professor Jeff Bennett of the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU surveyed the views of residents in Cairns, Queensland, following the devastation of Cyclone Yasi in 2011. The cyclone left many residents temporarily without fresh food and utilities. The research aimed to probe what Cairns households would be willing to pay to get these types of services restored quicker in future natural disasters. The final report, published today, details research funded by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF).

The researchers found that households were willing on average to pay an annual levy of $357 for faster resupply of electricity and sewerage, and an extra $125 each year so that they had quicker access to fresh food. However, households were only prepared to pay an extra $11 to keep police patrols on the street for a longer time, and weren’t prepared to pay at all for emergency accommodation for displaced pets.

Professor Dobes said that the study could help policy makers understand how best to respond to public needs following a cyclone and that funds should be channeled to areas of greatest net benefit to the community.

“Surprisingly, virtually no research has been carried out in Australia to estimate the value that communities themselves – rather than government agencies – attach to different emergency services,” he said.

“If governments are to allocate resources efficiently, then the social benefits of any policy or program must exceed the corresponding social costs. But while cost-benefit analysis is sometimes carried out for major infrastructure programs, there does not appear to have been any significant analysis of the social costs and social benefits of post-cyclone emergency services.

“This study is the first step providing information that can help guide the allocation of budgets and resources in the area by government agencies, especially if cyclones become more intense or frequent in the future.”

The survey forms for the ANU study were distributed and collected by the Cairns Lions Club, headed by President Thelma Spelta, raising almost $50,000 which will go back into the Cairns community. 

Download the report: Benefits and costs of provision of post-cyclone emergency services in Cairns.

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