Severe wet season drives up demand for air freight food supplies in northern Queensland

An unusually long wet season has meant changes to the way a number of remote Cape York communities are receiving critical food supplies.

Cape York is one of the latest regions to feel the brunt of extreme weather events, as the Queensland Government tips climate change will mean higher temperatures and more intense downpours in the Cape. 

Store operator Community Enterprise Queensland (CEQ), has supplied food to remote Cape York communities during the current super wet season by flying in essential freight.

The not-for-profit remote store operator usually delivers supplies to its supermarkets in the Indigenous communities of Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw, and Doomadgee by truck, but during the wet season, road closures have led to the need to charter weekly flights to ensure communities receive fresh food deliveries each week.

CEQ is responsible for providing goods and essential services to the Torres Strait, Northern Peninsula Area, mainland Aboriginal remote communities, and Palm Island, through 28 stores. CEQ manages Islanders Board of Industry and Service (IBIS) and Aboriginal Business, Industry and Service (ABIS) stores, and others.

The organisation’s Chief Executive, Michael Dykes, says wet season store planning starts eight months out but requires flexibility.

Read more in Cosmos: Clues to cultivation in the Torres Strait

“In a normal wet season year, CEQ would expect Doomadgee to be cut off by road for around six days, however this year it is nine weeks and counting,” says Dykes.

“Even the best-laid plans need to remain flexible and nimble, as the weather in the Cape and Torres Strait can often dish up surprises, and this wet season has surprised everyone.”

This year’s particularly wild weather has meant additional fresh food deliveries, increasing CEQ’s wet season freight cost for three sites – Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw, and Doomadgee alone – to more than $1.2 million.

“The aggregate model CEQ operates means the collective good of all stores in the group supports other stores when they have challenges,” Mr Dykes said.

“The collective power of the CEQ model is currently enabling this significant cost to be funded for the benefit of our wet season stores. These costs are absorbed by CEQ and do not result in a price increase for customers.”

Also in Cosmos: Wet season: Lismore prepares for higher floods under climate change

CEQ has spent more than $735,000 on 27 separate air charters to Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw, and Doomadgee this wet season to date, delivering more than 85,000kg of products.

“We see it as our commitment to communities that during the wet season we go the extra mile to ensure essential goods are supplied to the remote Cape York communities in which we operate,” Dykes says.

“Our supermarkets’ warehouses and freezers are filled to capacity prior to the wet season.”

CEQ has been flying in supplies to the three communities since December 2022.

“It’s a complex and very specialised process which will impact on peoples’ health if we get it wrong. We just won’t compromise on our food safety standards,” Dykes says. “Keeping our stores well stocked is particularly important during the wet season, as we’re also often called upon to supply water and essential items in these areas as part of the state’s disaster response efforts.”

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