Drought resilience framework is needed as NT expects extreme heat


As the Northern Territory continues to experience extreme weather conditions, Charles Darwin University (CDU) researchers are investigating the role community leaders play in building resilience during times of drought.

Findings from the study will help develop a drought resilience framework to help prepare and strengthen the community’s response when drought occurs.

Projections show that in the coming months, the Northern Territory will experience a higher level of drought severity due to changes in El Nino and the Indian Ocean Dipole.

CDU researchers Dr Matthew Abunyewah and Professor Mitchell Byrne are investigating community resilience to drought to better prepare residents of Alice Springs for future possible severe effects, including psychological impacts.

Currently in the second phase of the project, the research team will soon engage with a range of community leaders in Alice Springs to ascertain how they can build community resilience.

“It is widely recognised that drought has significant economic and social impacts on affected communities. However, less is known about the psychological impacts of drought,” Dr Abunyewah said.

“Through our research, we have identified various leaders within the community of Alice Springs who are highly respected, influential, and easily approached by others, such as sports club leaders or volunteers.

“The next phase of the project will involve speaking with these leaders through semi-structured interviews to unpack and identify their perceived roles in preparing for and recovering from drought,” he said.

Results from this research will address knowledge gaps through the development of a structured, community-empowering framework and process for building psychological resilience in drought-affected communities.

“Determining the way in which drought is understood and people’s views on how individuals and communities can respond is essential to building resilience,” Dr Abunyewah said.

“From this research, we will learn how to develop a sustainable drought resilience program which will help communities to proactively prepare for and adapt to the continuous dynamic and evolving psychological and social impacts of drought.”

Alice Springs, is known for its high temperatures and low rainfall, only receiving around 270mm of water annually. Drought is more likely to occur in Alice Springs than any other place in the NT.

Food insecurity is a significant result of drought which increases psychological distress, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders across the community.

Professor Byrne said when it comes to drought, attention is mostly focused on the physical aspects such as mitigation, rather than the psychological aspects.

“Without a resilience framework that highlights some of the psychological risks of drought, community members are more likely to experience issues such as depression, substance abuse and even domestic violence,” Professor Byrne said.

“This can really affect the community’s social cohesion and connectedness and their ability to manage drought in the long term.

“We can’t stop drought from happening, but we can work with communities and individuals to lessen the impact of drought and create greater preparedness across Australia.”

This project is supported by the Northern Western Australia and Northern Territory Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub (Northern Hub) established by the Australian Government.

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