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Disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint

Opinion: Red Cross urges broad community support for Adelaide Hills bushfire recovery

Tuesday January 13, 2015

As communities in the Adelaide Hills recover from severe bushfires we are there helping to provide much needed social and emotional support to those in need. Credit: AAP Image/David Mariuz

The following opinion piece by Australian Red Cross SA Executive Director Helen Connelly was first published in The Adelaide Advertiser on 12 January 2015.

Adelaide Hills bushfire recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint

WITH the fires still fresh, it's time for us as a community to turn our minds to disaster recovery and supporting people on their journey to regain a sense of security, become more resilient and gradually resume their lives. 

This requires the broader community, government and non-government agencies, and the private sector, locally and nationally, working together. Emergency recovery work rests on the understanding that the impacts of an emergency - be they social, economic, housing, infrastructure or the natural environment - are all interrelated.

Successful recovery must provide equal support to an individual's resilience and enable the entire community's social capital to be used to drive their local recovery effort.

Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.

The impacts on people's lives are complex and long term, and they change over time. When you've lived through a major disaster, each step along the road to recovery can become a hurdle.

A very stressful step in the recovery process is returning home following a disaster. Bushfires present particularly distressing images, sounds and smells, including smoke, charred trees, burnt cars and dead animals.

People have innate resilience, but it is sorely tested by the impact of a severe bushfire. Not only the loss of life and loss of homes, which everyone focuses on, but also experiences such as facing death, becoming separated from family, no longer feeling safe, and living in a community that has been fractured.

It can be exhausting. People's feelings of anger, guilt, frustration and sadness are displayed and channelled in many different ways, including towards governments and agencies. These feelings channel energy away from the practical decision making and emotional recovery required for daily living, plunging people into survival mode, and make it harder to make urgent decisions about relocation, rebuilding, schooling, employment and household purchases.

Broad community support is required to help people cope with these social and emotional impacts at each stage of the recovery process. Recovery requires a commitment to stay with communities until they have fully recovered, and rebuilt not just their homes but the resilience they need to move on with their lives.

Red Cross has vast experience supporting people returning to their homes after a bushfire. We offer a range of published resources on our website. The generosity of the public to support our recovery work is vital and together we can make a lasting difference.

Helen Connolly
SA Executive Director, Australian Red Cross  


Donations to Red Cross can be made online or by phoning 1800 811 700.