“50% of Australians believe in climate change, but 50% of people haven’t moved away from the coast.”

To be more exact, 46% of Australians surveyed by Ipsos believe climate change is ‘entirely or mainly’ caused by human activity. However as my climate-change-skeptical mother observed last night, we are not seeing coastal living becoming any less popular.

We know that around 80% of the Australian population live in coastal areas, with 50% living just 7 kms from the shoreline, (considered high-risk for tsunamis). Our iconic beaches are just one attraction, along with better levels of employment and access to services than in regional or remote areas.

If the science is to be believed, we are in for an ocean level rise of up to 82cm or more by 2090, in the worse case scenario. Not to mention increasingly severe cyclone and fire events, intense rain or severe drought, and warmer temperatures. We may get more storm surges and flooding in coastal areas. The Australian data on sea levels and atmospheric temperatures are on par or even higher than the global predictions.

Just recently I was living in a new development that has several kilometers of beautiful man-made lakes and waterways. However, after it was all built and landscaped to perfection, storm surges following Cyclone Oma made quite a mess of the gardens and footpaths. The council here has not factored in rising sea levels, and no adjustments have been made to prevent further damage to infrastructure.

A country that has its fair share of natural disasters, New Zealand has a dedicated Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management, which prepares for and responds to any events such as flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis and more. They have ongoing research, and dedicated response teams in regional areas. They have apps, they have evacuation drills for the public, and they are keeping tabs on what could be building up to a major earthquake and tsunami event in the next 10 years. Why is Australia not this well prepared?

Apparently the devastation of Black Saturday has not sunk in with people still refusing to leave their homes on catastrophic fire days. Surely we should know by now that being under-prepared and disorganised in emergencies can have deadly consequences.

A friend with experience in and connections to NZ Civil Defense has advised me to talk to my loved ones about the risk of a major tsunami hitting the Australian East coast anytime in the next 10 years, or even in two week’s time, based on seismic activity data. I was pretty skeptical at first, as it sounds like a ‘end of world’ scenario, but they know what they are talking about, and after researching for this article, I think it is something we need to seriously consider.

What would you do if you received a tsunami warning on your phone or over the radio? Drills in NZ show that people often overestimate their ability to get to a safe area in time.

Are we waiting for a disaster to occur? Have you got a plan if one occurs? I strongly suggest taking some time to consider the risks you and your family may face, whether it be bushfire, flood, tsunami or cyclone (click for government agency or SES advice). If you haven’t already, sit down together and work out an emergency plan, and then make sure you review the plan regularly.

The Australian Disaster Resilience Knowledge Hub also has a range of resources for disaster preparation.

Don’t wait until the flood or fire is at your door. As my friend said to me, ‘it’s better to be the silly person standing alone on top of the hill, than the one caught at the bottom’.

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