North Queensland will recover, but what will be Cyclone Debbie’s legacy?
The confidence that many have in the resilience of our North Queensland communities is certainly not misplaced.
A history of severe weather events have time and time again caused extensive damage to houses and businesses, crops to be wiped out, vital infrastructure to be ripped up and disruptions to tourism and coal exports. But at least outwardly, these communities and towns seem to return back to normal in relatively quick time.
Of the limited number of positives arising from such events, Queensland has historically seen increases in construction activity, higher retail numbers from the replacement of consumer durables, and a relatively quick rebound in business confidence in the following months.
The graph below shows the steep incline in Queensland’s business confidence from early-mid 2011, following Cyclone Yasi, through to 2014.
We only need to look at the tourism industry for such show of resilience. As one of the hardest hit industries from severe weather events in North Queensland, we can see that already in the year following Cyclone Yasi in 2011, visitor numbers climbed rapidly to surpass the high in 2008.
Despite many external factors such as overseas election results, global health epidemics, value of currency and airline strikes impacting on tourism trade, some of these events carry long-term effects that do not get captured in data.
Cyclone Debbie has brought to light the many businesses who had only just completed their upgrade work following Cyclone Marcia two years ago. For those not directly impacted, it is difficult to comprehend the rebuilding efforts that can certainly continue on for years, once debris is cleared and water and electricity restored.
Further afield, hotels and operators hundreds of kilometres away from the affected areas such as Cairns and Rockhampton are seeing cancellations for the busy Easter holidays which only heightens the economic impacts to the industry and the State.
This kind of collateral damage that happens within the tourism industry was evident with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Africa’s entire tourism industry took a massive hit, despite Ebola mainly affecting the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The agriculture industry is another example of how the effects from severe weather events can last for years.
As the graphs below show, there was a clear drop in banana and sugar cane production in 2011 following Cyclone Yasi. The sugar cane industry in particular has struggled to rebound to pre-2011 levels, as these crops require years to mature in order to become ready for harvesting.
These types of impacts and “after-effects” cannot easily be fixed by insurance payouts, emergency services or government grants.
Some other, more ‘hidden’ impacts can range from people abandoning their businesses altogether, residents leaving the area to seek employment, loss of retirement income through property damage, perceived safety of the region from tourists, to a rise in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Such impacts can be devastating to residents and business owners and usually involve a complex and careful approach in dealing with them.