Being prepared for climate disaster: the lingering lesson left behind by Australia’s 2022 floods
In March 2022, Verve’s Community Engagement Manager Alison Bird saw the disastrous impact of the New South Wales floods firsthand. Among the emotional and physical damage left behind, was the reminder to be financially prepared for the unexpected.
Being confronted by a climate disaster at your doorstep has a way of bringing a community together.
As I watched the water climb up my driveway, creeping closer to our house in Northern NSW, I felt total disbelief that this was occurring on a regular Monday morning. But the water kept rising and soon the power and reception cut out. We couldn’t check in with neighbours without wading through muddy water, let alone contact family further afield to let them know we were okay. Before we knew it, there was an evacuation and the slow realisation of what our community was losing.
I’ve lived in the area since 2015, and it’s the community spirit that makes this area home. That sense of belonging and neighbourly compassion became the backbone of our response to the March 2022 floods.
I was lucky: the floodwaters settled just centimetres from our front door. But my neighbours, friends, and loved ones nearby weren’t all so fortunate. We’ve spent the weeks since in clean-up mode; helping folks pile up their possessions on the side of the street, salvaging irreplaceable family photos, picking up the pieces from broken businesses and scrubbing away the mud and mould. It’s been heartbreaking to watch our community experience the physical and emotional distress of climate disaster. Because that’s what it is: a harsh reminder of the pressure our planet is under and how it can impact our lives.
As the water was still receding in my suburb, I began reflecting on the personal and financial impacts for the community. I had 3 key realisations —
1 – Be prepared
Whether it’s a climate disaster, the sudden illness of a partner or the unexpected loss of a beloved pet – sh*t happens. While we can never know what or when, we can be prepared for the unexpected to occur.
We can scan important documents and photos, keeping them in a safe place, and take time to spend with the ones that we love most. Developing a plan for getting out of the house safely in the event of an emergency can take minutes to put down on paper, will hopefully never be put to use, but could save lives. Financially, we can ensure that we have an emergency buffer, check we have appropriate insurance and estate planning in place.
This doesn’t mean creating anxiety about what could happen in the future,
far from it. Rather, we can relax knowing that when the unexpected happens, we have something in place to give us options during a difficult time.
2 – Take stock
As the water receded and my partner and I counted our blessings for a dry home, we started helping our friends and neighbours who had not been as lucky. We helped them haul out furniture and rip up carpet, we helped them to take muddy trinkets and sodden books out onto the street to eventually be picked up by the council and taken to landfill.
As so many in the community were forced to take stock of what was left, we naturally started to look at the items in our home differently too. We began to consider what we could give to others, what we could throw out, and what we might want to add more of (plants, always plants).
Financially, I started taking stock as well. In my role here at Verve, money is front of mind every day, and yet, this was a chance to look at my saving and spending in a new light. Were there any subscriptions I could get rid of? Could I improve the way my money systems work? Could I afford to donate any money to a worthy cause? (Yes.)
Taking stock and making time to reflect on what’s in your life, your home, your relationships and your finances can help to ensure that you’re spending your time and money on what’s actually most valuable to you.
3 – Connect with community
As I reflect on the initial days following the flood, I’m struck by how disconnected I was from the news. Without access to the internet we banded together with our neighbours and surrounding community to share skills, tools, food and comfort. Instead of doom-scrolling through the devastation, we were forced to take action and be present. There was no access to a nightly news update on the TV and no way of comparing our situation to others on social media. That was a total blessing.
As soon as I saw how others were impacted, I felt the need to dilute my own experience. It’s reflective of how social media can make many of us all feel about money too. Often, we’re quick to compare our situation to others and downplay our own reality and milestones.
Even once the internet was returned, I was mindful of my use, and have consciously continued to disconnect to stay connected.
If you’ve never met your neighbours before, I really encourage you to say hi and introduce yourself. You never know when and how you might be able to support each other.
Like I said, I’ve been very lucky this time. While the floods have had a devastating impact across the East Coast and been a tragic and graphic illustration of climate disaster, this time has also served as an opportunity to connect with community. It’s provided a reminder to be grateful for what I have and to take stock of life, and my finances. Others have children out of school, businesses forced to shut and homes that can’t be lived in – hindsight and the opportunity to reflect is likely still a way off for those in this situation. If you’re among those impacted, I hope you have the support of your community around you. No one should have to face this alone.
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