Little boy (nineteen month old) is learning about how to water and take care of the veggie garden. He is spraying water on the plants

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We’re not doing enough to help community organisations confront climate change

Community organisations are deeply embedded in the communities they serve.

They’re there for the day-to-day struggles, relied on by people who may be vulnerable or disadvantaged. They support people to be resilient, to cope and bounce back from life’s shocks and challenges.

But in an environment of increasing threat from climate change, community organisations are themselves highly vulnerable and need support to become resilient.

We know about 45 per cent of community organisations had experienced an extreme weather event or disaster in the past 12 months. And while many have emergency plans in place, just over 10 per cent had developed a climate change risk assessment or plan.

So why aren’t community organisations doing more to prepare for this clear risk to their operations?

One of the reasons is that they’re not funded for it.

Community organisations generally receive funding for one, two or at most three years. With that kind of short-term outlook, and with the demand for services they face on a daily basis, it’s very difficult to set aside the time and resources to come to grips with climate change risks.

Climate change is a complex thing for organisations to grapple with. It requires adaptation across the short, medium and long term. It requires coordination and dedicated resources.

But there are tools available and under development, and community organisations have some organic advantages in the fight.

For one thing, these organisations have partnership and collaboration in their DNA. They could be brought together to workshop different climate change scenarios – for instance, a week-long heatwave, a severe bushfire or flood – and to share ideas, information and resources. This kind of collective response builds community resilience and helps everyone prepare for the future.

So why aren’t community organisations doing more to prepare for this clear risk to their operations? One of the reasons is that they’re not funded for it.

Community organisations in rural and regional Victoria need special consideration as they’re working on the frontline of the climate change battle and already seeing its impacts hit hard.

There are areas in the state that have been in drought for many years and are now facing severe bushfire risk. Some areas are facing such extreme heat – up to 48 degrees – that organisations report not just health impacts like heat stress and heat stroke, but also rises in family violence, alcohol abuse and general community violence. Whole families are having to sleep in parks to get some relief from hot homes; kids are missing school and parents are struggling with stress and health issues.

And of course all these issues have a flow-on effect for community organisations and their staff, who are embedded in the communities and struggling to support people.

So rural and regional organisations need to be at the forefront of Government thinking and resourcing in plans to confront climate change. But what they’re facing now is a harbinger of challenges to come across the board.

The whole community sector needs support to access tools, resources and training> they also need help with funding and other practical assistance to get ready and be there for the long haul so that they’re always there, for their clients and their communities.

Community organisations are highly vulnerable to the risks of climate change, but they’re also highly committed to seeing their communities – our communities – into a safe and resilient future. They just need matching commitment from the Victorian Government to help them help all Victorians.

This call for better support for community organisations in confronting climate change appears in A State Of Wellbeing, VCOSS’s formal submission to the Victorian Government ahead of the 2020 state budget.

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