A report that I have had a lot of involvement in has been released today. The Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities, a grouping of Insurance Australia Group, Westpac, Optus, Investa, and Munich Re commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to look into the economic costs of the social impacts of disasters. No mean feat. For the first time I feel like we have started to count the economic costs of the social impacts of disasters. This is important because understanding the economic costs of the social impacts, we can get a truer cost of disasters (given that mostly what is focussed on at the moment is the replacement of houses, bridges, and buildings).
Through the consultants, we found that the social impact costs were at least 50% higher than the tangible costs that are currently counted (eg insurance, firefighting costs, infrastructure costs etc) . This figure took into account mental health and other health costs, as well as domestic violence. What we weren’t able to ascertain was what is the cost of disruption and dislocation of communities, the costs of poorer education outcomes, reduced employment opportunities, reduce business opportunities, and the cost of relationship breakdown. This data is not collected post disaster, and therefore is hard to study. IF we did collect this data and analysed it, I suspect we could double the costs again.
With this we will be able to do two things; argue for longer term psycho-social recovery programs, and create a more compelling argument for preparedness by increasing the value at risk (and hopefully counter the argument, well I’m insured, i don’t need to do anything else). As try as we might, feelgood stories don’t wash with hard bitten Treasury Officials, in whose job description the first line is Just say no. They want data, they want to see the cost. And while my colleague Kate Brady, once quoting Einstein, said, not everything worth counting can be counted, and not everything that can be counted is worth counting, I feel we need to take on the language of the oppressor. Match them at their own game
Early days yet, but this is an important piece of work, which hopefully will provide a bit of a foundation to look more deeply into some of the issues. Of course none of this means anything to the person in their flooded home, staring at years of potential misery and opportunity lost. But if it helps us in the backroom, argue for smarter programs, then its an important step.