THE BLACK Saturday bushfires that tore communities 2009 cost each victim an average $52,300 in psychological health and life satisfaction, new research suggests.
That included in Bendigo, where one person died and 57 homes were destroyed as a fire swept through Maiden Gully and deep into West Bendigo, California Gully and Long Gully.
People's "life satisfaction" losses from fatal Black Saturday fires amounted to 80 per cent of the average Victorian's income, economists said in a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
It was so high because of a range of factors including trauma, the destruction of infrastructure and a host of other challenges communities grappling with disaster face, study co-author Mehmet Ulubasoglu said.
"It's a lot of money, but it is a reasonable amount because it measures psychological losses, social and community impacts," he said.
"You might not have lost a house but you are living in a community where people died, where infrastructure was destroyed. You not only saw all that happened but have ongoing effects like reduced economic activity.
"There are lots of factors that contribute to life satisfaction."
Researchers looked at Bendigo's fire along with three others from the same catastrophic day.
People's life satisfaction can help shape economies. Those who are not satisfied can be less productive, Professor Ulubasoglu said.
They may need more time off of work to deal with trauma, for instance.
The people hit longest and hardest mentally by Black Saturday had weaker social support, the latest research suggested.
"Think of it like COVID-19. Lockdown itself is not just you literally getting locked down. It comes with the inability to see friends and family," Professor Ulubasoglu said.
He hoped research on life satisfaction could help hone community responses to disasters in the days, weeks and years that followed.
"A disaster is a disaster. It's unexpected, shocking. There will be some decline in satisfaction measures," Professor Ulubasoglu said.
"But our research shows there is some learning effect going on in Australia. It is better than, for instance, the US or other countries in terms of saving lives and looking after communities."
Professor Ulubasoglu said government relief and recovery programs do help alleviate the psychological impacts of disasters.
"These things help people come back after a while. That's another finding that we have, that these things don't continue indefinitely," Professor Ulubasoglu said.
The paper "Evaluating wildfire exposure: Using wellbeing data to estimate and value the impacts of wildfire", was written by experts from universities including Deakin, Monash, Curtin and Ghent.
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