The effects of natural disasters on rural communities: strategies for survival

Alexandra GartmannThe 2009 Victorian bushfires are arguably the greatest natural disaster Australia has faced. In early 2009, even while the emergency relief effort in response to the Victorian bushfires was in full-swing, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) championed the creation of a collaborative grants program known as Repair-Restore-Renew. That program addressed many of the medium-term recovery needs however it also revealed that ongoing support is required to address volunteer fatigue. Three years on, the volunteers rebuilding bushfire affected communities are suffering a range of psychosocial and psychiatric issues due to the trauma they have experienced. Volunteers are over worked and performing tasks that do not match their skill base.

They are involved in the recovery mission due to necessity not through the normal motives that inspire individuals to volunteer in their community and the positive outcomes that volunteering usually instills in individuals are absent. All rural communities have a small pool of individuals from which to recruit volunteers. Without leadership and continuing support, the community’s experience of volunteering is likely to be disconcerting and unsustainable. Consequently, FRRR has developed the STEPS program – Skills, Training, Engagement and Practical Support.

FRRR’s CEO, Alexandra Gartmann, will share the lessons learnt from this recovery journey, which are incredibly relevant given the increasing prevalence of natural disasters across Australia. We will also share some of the findings and lessons from similar international events, as well as some other regional social research following 10 years of drought in rural Victoria. Finally, it will explore the critical role that the philanthropic sector can play in medium to long term natural disaster recovery.

Alexandra Gartmann, CEO of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal will present at the:

4th Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium to be held on the 19 – 21 November 2012, Adelaide, South Australia.

Web:  https://dev3.anzmh.asn.au/rrmh         Email: ruralhealth@anzmh.asn.au