Flood recovery: insights from people who’ve been there

The sequence of floods seen across eastern Australia in 2022 were among the worst in recorded history, with many communities flooded multiple times.

Nearly 200 people affected by these floods have shared their personal experiences with researchers in interviews to help improve flood management and communication, as well as recovery efforts and support.

The research, which draws on 430 survey responses as well as 192 interviews, is published in a report by Natural Hazards Research Australia.

Lead author, Associate Professor Mel Taylor, an occupational psychologist at Macquarie University, used says that this open-ended interview method has been used to hear from bushfire survivors in the past.

“The participant who’s been through, in this case, a flood, is able to say what’s important to them,” she says.

The researchers, who also come from the University of Southern Queensland and Queensland University of Technology, interviewed and surveyed people who’d experienced flooding in New South Wales and Queensland during the first half of 2022.

“Most of the people we spoke to were keen for others to learn from what they’ve been through,” says Taylor.

The researchers drew out thirteen themes from their interviews, including topics like the inaccessibility of good flood data, local knowledge, temporary housing, and frustration at disaster opportunism.

“You do go away, sometimes, and shed a tear,” says Taylor.

“In fact, I recall, there was one interview where I actually got quite teary myself during the interview – which is probably unprofessional, but we’re all human.”

The researchers identified four broad challenges: erosion of trust, the need to embrace local communities, managing long-term psychological impacts, and the need for a holistic person-centred approach to disaster support.

One of the prominent topics was people’s eagerness to return to their own homes, even if they weren’t repaired.

“Getting back was obviously important for people’s wellbeing, I think, and an extra sense of control over this,” says Taylor.

She adds that people wanted to go back to their homes early, both to oversee the reconstruction and be near work, schools, and sources of community support.

“Even if places were fully back to normal, it was still nicer to be back living in something that was less comfortable, but at least familiar, where you would be near neighbours and have all the advantages of being connected to them.”

The study also highlighted that places with many local community connections were more resilient to floods.

“Where community has been strong, it seems like it’s been easier for people to get on with recovery,” says Taylor.

“People aren’t recovered yet – it takes a long period to recover fully. [But] I think that’s one thing that was heartening.”

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