Harnessing private sector logistics for emergency food and water supplies in flood prone areas.

Adaptation Research Grants Program
Dr Leo Dobes
Australian National University

Executive Summary from final report

Cyclones can damage a wide range of infrastructure, including housing. Residents of cyclone-affected towns rely on government agencies to provide emergency assistance to restore infrastructure services such as mains electricity and sewerage, as well as facilitating the supply of fresh food. Restoration of basic day-to-day functionality after a cyclone can typically take a week, and even longer.

It is possible for government agencies to provide more resources, or to subsidise private enterprise, in order to restore basic services more quickly. However, this would require the use of more public resources, and may mean that offsetting reductions would be required in the provision of other publicly provided goods and services such as health services or education.

If governments are to allocate resources efficiently, in a way that increases overall community well-being, then the social benefits of any policy or program must exceed the corresponding social costs. While cost-benefit analysis is sometimes carried out for major programs, there does not appear to have been any analysis of the social costs and social benefits of post-cyclone emergency services. This study is therefore a first step in providing information that can help guide the allocation of budgets and resources in the area by government agencies.

The social benefit of any change in the provision of emergency services needs to be based on estimates of individual households’ willingness to pay for improvements. Because most emergency services are not available in commercial markets, the information needs to be obtained through stated preference surveys. The survey used in this project, a Choice Experiment, allowed interviewees to choose from alternative ‘bundles’ of emergency services that include a cost component.

Each ‘bundle’ contained a combination of different quantities of services as well as a cost. Based on the choices made by a random sample of Cairns households, estimates were made of their average willingness to pay for different levels of emergency services. Based on the advice of focus groups of Cairns residents, the services comprising the ‘bundles’ were: the accommodation in shelters of pets, longer duration of police patrols across the city, faster reconnection of utilities like electricity and sewerage, and faster resupply of fresh food.

Cairns households were on average prepared to pay about $125 per annum for faster resupply of fresh food, and almost three times more each year for faster reconnection of utilities, but only about $11 per annum for each additional day of police patrols. However, households expressed an average negative willingness to pay about -$99 per annum for accommodation of pets in a shelter after a cyclone.

Corresponding social costs of providing improved services were necessarily estimated from a variety of sources. Except in the case of provision of post-cyclone shelter for pets, the net social benefit was positive for each of the services analysed.

If cyclones were to become more frequent or intense due to climate change or some other factor, then the damage caused is likely to increase or become more widespread. And as population grows, more people will be affected. The estimates obtained in this study of willingness to pay for post-cyclone emergency services provides a basis for estimating the net social benefits of improved services, but scientific uncertainty about the effect of climate change on future cyclone patterns precludes incorporation of this factor into the analysis.

More Information

View the final report here