Improved building design instead of relocation
Improved building design instead of relocation – Source: Wikimedia commons
  • Relocation of flood-prone communities is not the solution; building resilience is, say experts
  • Lack of preparedness is the main issue that causes vulnerabilities during flood evacuations
  • Building houses on piles and seeking less flood-prone areas are options that can be considered

Northern Territory communities affected by recent flooding and evacuations should not be relocated, but rather, new homes should be constructed to be more resilient to the environmental conditions, according to a local expert.

Charles Darwin University’s, Dr Cat Kutay argues that the issue is not where homes are built in remote areas, but rather how they are built.

She said the lack of preparedness, rather than the community’s vulnerabilities, has been exposed by evacuations bought on by recent severe flooding of large parts of the state.

Preparedness is key

Dr Kutay said, “We often have many Aboriginal communities embedded within mainstream communities. This population is usually well informed as to the suitable locations for building from the long local memory stored in their stories.”

“Yet such people are rarely consulted in either the house design or location of building phases. This information could improve the viability of houses in flood-prone areas, from Lismore to Fitzroy Crossing.”

Resilience over relocation

According to Dr Kutay, options such as building houses on piles and seeking areas that are less prone in the vicinity of flooded areas should be considered rather than total relocation.

She said the importance of listening to the knowledge of the locals would be beneficial, to better understand the concepts of water flow in a more holistic manner.

“We have not learnt to respect the power of water and the changes in flow. We still rely on the last fifty-year flows for planning and we still like to build on the lush and flat river floodplains. Attempts to alter flow often include placing rocks to prevent erosion but they only divert flow that also directs silt and debris in higher amounts to other locations. The problem is getting worse, and we need sustainable models that cover long periods of wind, sea and river changes.”

Dr Kutay also said that the relocation of houses should be carried out in a consultation that involves thorough listening to new perspectives.

Building in flood-prone areas

She said that total relocation should be considered only after all options have been exhausted, as houses built in certain locations have been chosen for a reason.

While improved building designs, rather than relocation, might be more beneficial to communities and will allow them to be better prepared to face the impacts of extreme weather events.

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