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Making the best from the worst

Prof. Mehmet Ulubasoglu will assist Australia’s policymakers better plan for the economic impact of natural disasters.

Research by Professor Mehmet Ulubasoglu (Department of Economics) into the economic impact of natural disasters has been further recognised by the award of a new research grant to investigate post-disaster recovery options in Australia.

Working with the federal government’s Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC), Prof. Ulubasoglu will examine the economic effects of previous Australian disasters – the Queensland floods, Black Saturday bushfires and Cyclone Oswald – with the aim to assist economic planning and contingency.

He says that in governments’ economic planning process, the impact of natural disasters often needs more evidence-based support.

‘Typically, the focus is on emergency response systems and it takes time to realise the economic effects. In Australia, the disaster management arrangements – mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery – have proven to be very successful at saving lives, however less attention and resources have been devoted to the economic impacts.’

One of the problems is a lack of economic estimates across all the affected sectors after a natural disaster. Ideally, these estimates should reflect both the primary and secondary impacts so that persistent economic losses can be taken into account says Prof. Ulubasoglu.

'Each year, Australia suffers numerous natural disaster events and they’re estimated to cost an average of AU$1.14 billion annually. Understanding the economic impacts that are central to implementing effective risk reduction strategies and improving community resilience mitigates the economic, social and environmental effects.’

By examining the financial impact of three major natural disaster events in Australia, the project aims to produce a ranked list of the economic sectors that are likely to seek more post-disaster resources.

'This will assist state and federal government policymakers and their budget decisions across a range of economic sectors in pre-disaster mitigation – as well as post-disaster – recovery phases,' explains Prof. Ulubasoglu.

While the project findings will be customised to directly support individuals, he adds they will also be tailored to help firms survive and keep their workforce employed.

'Importantly, this project will enhance our understanding of the socio-economics of natural disasters. It will assist governments to make informed decisions and formulate public policies in a way that will minimise disaster risks.'

Dr Ulubasoglu’s work with the BNHCRC builds on a range of national and international projects linked to government organisations. 

Widely published across reputable international journals, he’s held consultancy roles for the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre and also led a report on Australian food demand for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. 

The three-year Optimising Post-disaster Recovery Interventions in Australia project is due for completion in June 2020 and will be utilised by Emergency Management Australia, Attorney General's Department; Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria; Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, South Australia; Queensland Reconstruction Authority; Department of Treasury and Finance, Victoria and the Queensland Treasury.

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