Journal article

Exposure to risk and experiences of river flooding for people with disability and carers in rural Australia: a cross-sectional survey

Extreme weather events Disasters Floods Mental health Crisis response Caregivers People with disability New South Wales

Objectives: In this paper, the authors explore the exposure to risk and experiences of people with disability and carers during a flooding event and the subsequent mental health impacts.

Design: A cross-sectional survey between September and November 2017. Binary logistic regression models were used to investigate associations between the mental health of people with disability and carers and their exposure to the flood. Inductive content analysis was used to analyse qualitative data.

Setting: Flood-affected communities in the rural area of Northern Rivers, New South Wales, Australia, 6 months after river flooding in 2017.

Participants: People over 16 years and a resident in the Northern Rivers at the time of the flood were invited to participate. Using a purposive, snowballing sampling technique, participants were drawn from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and had experienced different degrees of flood exposure.

Results: Of 2252 respondents, there were 164 people with disability and 91 carers. Both groups had increased odds of having their home flooded. On evacuation, respondents reported inaccessible, conflicting and confusing information regarding flood warnings. Essential services, such as healthcare and social services, were disrupted and access to safe and mould free housing post flood event was limited. After taking socio-demographic factors into account, respondents with a disability and carers had greater odds of probable post-traumatic stress disorder compared with other respondents.

Conclusion: The findings show the profound impact and systemic neglect experienced by people with disability and carers during and after the 2017 flood event in the Northern Rivers. As people with disability will take longer to recover, they will require longer-term tailored supports and purposeful inclusion in flood preparedness and recovery efforts.

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