At Habitat Australia we know that planet Earth is our one and only home. Yet across our projects, the families we work with have been impacted by or lost homes due to extreme weather patterns and climate change.
As the planet warms, so disasters become more frequent and intense – and Australia and the Pacific are bearing the brunt of it. Together with your supporters, we are working to ensure our families don’t lose their homes in the future.
Climate change highlights the need for all stakeholders to identify risks and capacities in their communities, then work together to prepare for, and adapt to, the changing environment.
Habitat for Humanity Ambassador and Environmental Advocate, Laura Wells, recently spoke with Habitat’s Community Development Manager for Bushfire Resilience, Philip Sen, about the impacts of climate change, and the importance of being proactive and prepared for disasters.
Laura: What is disaster resilience?
Philip: Disaster resilience is something that’s going to be increasingly important for people living in Australia and indeed around the world. Climate change means that the so-called ‘natural disasters’ we face – cyclones, droughts, bushfires, floods, they’re going to get more intense and more frequent as time goes by. There’s no stopping climate change I’m afraid. So, resilience is all about being ready for what is going to come, and making sure that people have the resources, skills and plans that they need to deal with the consequences.
Laura: So why is Habitat for Humanity Australia focused on bushfire resilience in particular?
Philip: Habitat is all about shelter and making sure that people have a fair go through having a roof over their head. Bushfire can be one of the most devastating natural disasters and those of us who saw the news or witnessed the 2019-2020 ‘Black Summer’ fires, saw just how incredibly destructive bushfires can be. It’s one of the biggest threats that’s posed to people who live in many areas of NSW, VIC, QLD and indeed all around the country, and if a bushfire gets near to your home, it will destroy your home. You will lose everything, so it’s a terrible disaster that people really need to be aware of, particularly the most vulnerable. Sadly, any kind of disaster affects the most vulnerable the hardest, they’re the ones who suffer the most and it’s up to all of us who can, together, to help those people.
Laura: Absolutely, even though we’ve more recently had to deal with COVID and floods, bushfires are still a huge issue going forward, aren’t they?
Philip: Climate change means that bushfires are going to get more intense as the climate changes. It will get hotter, it will get dryer and the recent amount of rain, even though ironically it means that nobody really wants to think about bushfires because it’s cold and wet, but the amount of rain has meant that vegetation in those bushfire exposed areas has grown immensely. Every day when we’re out on site we see all kinds of saplings growing around people’s houses and properties, all kinds of weeds, both indigenous Australian plants and non-natives which are adding to the problem, so it’s just become unmanageable, and we meet a lot of people for whom it’s become overwhelming. They cannot physically manage the amount of growth that’s happened around their homes, and their homes are no longer safe. It’s a huge fire hazard, and they need a bit of help getting back on top of it.
Bushfire resilience is quite hard work. It really does involve some physical work that’s much better done with a team of people rather than an individual. So that’s one of the reasons that this program exists – to help those people who are losing the physical capacity to take away all that vegetation and all those fire hazards, and just get them back on track and make sure that they are safer from the bushfire threat.
Laura: I felt the same on my volunteer days with Habitat. I loved getting in there and getting those tools out and chopping things down knowing that I was making a difference.
Philip: Absolutely! Other than the satisfaction of doing the work and seeing what you’ve achieved, is the gratitude that you see, time after time. We see people and a weight almost is physically lifted from their shoulders because they know that they’re at risk, many of them evacuated during the last bushfire season and some we know lost their homes, and they know that they’re no longer able to keep their properties safe by themselves and just seeing the weight lift of their shoulders when we’ve finished the job, and the thanks that we get, because those people feel so much safer after we’ve done that for them, and you know, that’s reward enough.
Habitat for Humanity’s bushfire resilience program is funded by the Federal and NSW governments and runs throughout the greater Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands regions bordering Sydney.