With northern Alberta still reeling from the wildfire that forced evacuation of Fort McMurray and area, the federal environment commissioner this week released a report that Canada is not adequately prepared for severe weather. This as extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and intense due to climate change.
Aside from heartbreaking personal losses, there is a stiff monetary cost to all Canadians: In the past six fiscal years, the report notes, the feds have spent more on recovery from “large-scale natural disasters” than in the previous 39 years combined.
Logical response is to focus on disaster “mitigation” — anticipating and planning for potential disasters — by not building on floodplains, for example, or by making sure buildings can hold up to major storms.
What the report points out is mitigation is better than recovery. Each dollar invested in mitigation saves between $3 and $5 in recovery costs. But what the audit found is the government has not updated floodplain maps since 1996; nor produced storm intensity, duration and frequency information; nor updated building codes. At least, the report notes, the government has produced other useful tools, such as forecasts and weather alerts.
The problem touches several departments: the National Research Council; Environment and Climate Change Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Public Safety Canada; and Infrastructure Canada.
What the shortage of information means is municipalities and provinces, dependent on the federal government for the data, don’t have the knowledge to build strong-enough roofs or big-enough culverts. In short, the federal information falldown threatens mitigation strategies.
“Homes . . . built to withstand our current climate may not be strong enough to withstand climates in decades to come,” the report warns, noting building codes don’t account for climate change.
Federal departments involved all agreed to look into the recommendations of the audit, which include, for example, accounting for climate change in building code plans. Changing the financing of grant programs, too, could help other levels of government invest in disaster-resistant infrastructure.
But government moves slowly; neither private sector businesses nor individual families can depend on it for quick results. All sectors need to be smart, especially with disasters such as the 2013 Calgary floods still fresh in Canadians’ minds. Disasters can’t all be averted; but everyone can prepare to some degree.