QUEENSLAND FLOOD DISASTER


The tragic news from the Queensland flood areas just keeps going on like an unending nightmare. It is hard to believe the death toll has accumulated to the number that it has: at the time of writing (15). The scenes of helplessness, as surging water pushes so many obstacles out of its ferocious way, resemble more like the news reports that are received in Australia about underdeveloped countries in Asia. Despited the many decades of floods in this country, little has been done to tame the uncontrollable might of nature. Australia has experienced floods over its history, yet what is done to eliminate or mitigate their destructive aftermath? Certainly there has been some levee building and perhaps a few dams. These are not enough. In countries like America, there has been  wide scale building of locks and reservoirs to divert the flow of flood waters from the Mississippi river. In England, there is a modern tidal lock system across the Thames river to prevent massive tidal and storm surges from flooding London. So why hasn’t anything along these engineering lines been attempted in Australia?

The lack of such obvious modern engineering solutions to such a perennial problem just makes Australia look like a second class country. In Queensland, there was a proposal to build a dam somewhere in the flood affected area to alleviate flood surges, but the grass-roots inhabitants decided to oppose the Queensland government and thus the dam wasn’t built. What do they think about their decision now.? The government was weak and simply worried about upsetting the environmentalists and potential swinging voters over this issue. Further, because it was out in  the country side, it was most probably opposed by a lot of National Party voters, who were just simply obstructing  any plans by the state Labor government. Any way the Bligh government backed down due to opposition, even though it was explained to them that it would alleviate flooding damage. Perhaps what they needed was a concrete example of just how bad flooding can affect everyone. Now they have it. How popular are these “NO DAMS’  protesters going to be now?

Maybe dams are not the complete answer. A system of reservoirs located down the length of flood prone rivers needs to be developed, to hold these excess flood waters before rivers over spill their levees. This excess water could then be stored for use in times of severe drought. This would be expensive, but worth it in the long run. Too much human suffering from drownings and economic lost occurs as the result of flood damage to houses, buildings and farms. The current cost of the Queensland floods has been estimated in the billions of dollars. This money should have been spent, before the excessive rain occurred, so as to avoid the massive insurance pay outs and other amounts of money that the Federal and State government will have to spend to support the victims of this flood tragedy.

We hear people talking about the 1974 flood. Well the question has to be asked — what did the responsible authorities do to avoid a similar catastrophe from happening in the future. It looks like they all put their collective heads in the sand and hoped it wasn’t going to happen again. This is what they do over in Pakistan and Bangladesh —  don’t they? All we did in Australia was to continue to build more suburbs in the Brisbane outer metropolitan area, thus exposing more people to flood waters than in 1974. That’s progress for you!! They didn’t want to spoil the natural look of the river with levee banks because it would detract from the picturesque view. And  upstream reservoirs were not considered. Blame for such short-sighted planning must of course fall on the J0h Beljelke-Petersen government that dominated Queensland politics and development for such a long period. And of course, some blame should be levelled at the State Labor governments that have been in power for long enough, to foresee such a problem occurring sooner or later. But such grand large-scale planning seems to be beyond governments these days. Or they are too afraid of some small vociferous minority making a big issue of dams and reservoirs.

It is going to costs billions of dollars to fix this gigantic disaster. The trouble is: will the government have any money left over to initiate such a mammoth engineering project to control the flood waters of key country rivers, to once and for all solve the perennial problem of reoccurring floods. Whilst we are receiving the sympathy and assistance of many overseas countries, Australia still looks pathetic in the eyes of developed countries simply because we have not done enough to alleviate the problem of flooding in this country.

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