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Australia is suffering from major bush fires in 2019 leaving behind 20 Million of acres burnt, more than 25 people dead and thousands homeless. According to the World Economic Forum, 2019 has been Australia’s driest and hottest summer with a 1.5°C rise from the previous years.
Burning at a very fast rate and destroying an area the size of South Korea, 2 times the size of Belgium and creating a plume of smoke of the size of Europe, the fire has killed more than 1 billion animals making the rate high with regards to worst mammal extinction and listing among the 7 countries for biodiversity loss with spewing ⅔ of National Annual CO₂ emission.
Causes of severe bushfires:
The catastrophic bushfire season has caused mainly because of the,
- Severe Heat and Drought
- Lightning Strikes
- Drier vegetation and fuel
- Positive Indian Ocean Dipole
- Greenhouse emission gases
Response of the Australian Government
Initially when the fires started in late July, 2019 the Australian govt. did not take major steps in minimizing the fires even when the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was being criticized by major ecologists and environmentalists globally. Later, govt. proposed a national review into the response to the disaster.
Receiving its lowest ever rainfall and New South Wales battling its worst fire season in atleast 20 years, the govt. has set up 50M AUD fund to rescue and protect the wildlife affected by the fires into which half of the fund would be used on advice from the panel of experts led by threatened species commissioner and rest for the support of wildlife rescue.
The govt has also listed out immediate priorities:
- Rehabilating injured wildlife
- Securing species and mapping damages
- Working with landowners to protect unburnt areas.
Despite substantial loss to property and wildlife, firefighters have managed to save 16,000 structures which could be directly affected by fire impact. Staff of NSW National Park launched Operation Rock Wallaby and used choppers to drop food, mostly carrots and sweet potatoes to the stranded colonies and more than 4000 pounds has already been dropped with more than 2000 pound of food being sent to areas of Yengo National Park and about 200 pounds of food and water dropped in Kangaroo Valley as well.
Teams of IFAW have started detecting live Koalas with the help of dogs who can track them by the scent of their fur. However, it is expected by the end of the fires, the govt might declare Koalas as endangered species as stated by Environment Minister Sussan Ley. Shockingly, in the past, 5000 camels were shot dead for drinking too much water in drought hit areas in a five day operation in Southern Australia.
Interestingly, Morrison govt. in January, 2020 announced that it would lease 4 water bombing planes for use by the govt. in the fires and Army, Navy and Air force started conducting night fire mapping, assessment and search and rescue operations.
Though the govt. is not taking the requisite steps, WWF Australia has launched a campaign with a 10 year target to grow 1.56 billion trees and save more than 780 million trees naming the campaign “Towards Two Billion Trees” to aid bushfire recovery at the earliest.
International conventions regarding forest fires
The most important and potentially for the welfare of the forests is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa (UNCCD). These three conventions, together with seven other multilateral agreements discuses the role of forests, functions, and certain important aspects.
|Climate Change Convention||1992|
|Convention on Biological Diversity||1992|
|Ramsar Convention on Wetlands||1971|
|World Heritage Convention||1972|
|Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species||1973|
|Ozone Layer Convention||1985|
|Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention||1989|
|International Tropical Timber Agreement||1994|
|World Trade Organization||1994|
After criticizing the Australian PM, globally notable environmentalists, actors, and other countries have taken part in curbing the fires through raising awareness and donations periodically.
WWF has raised a quarter million AUD in just 48 hours of its start of campaign around the world, whereas Australian billionaire mining magnate, Andrew Forrest pledged 48 Billion $ for the relief. NGOs like Earth Alliance have also raised another 3M $.
Another organization FairFax county in Northern Virginia which is home to 1.8 lakh students implemented “Civic Engagement Activities” where students can skip a day in the school year calendar for the protests, students took protests on streets and raised slogans and awareness regarding the climate change and its effects.
Many countries have took part in the bushfires through deploying firefighters or donating for the cause –
- Canada has deployed 87 firefighters through the Canadian Interagency firefighter centre.
- The government of Fiji deployed the Military Forces humanitarian assistance and disaster relief platoon and engineers for assessment.
- Over 50 New Zealanders were deployed in both direct fire fighting and support roles.
- Singapore deployed 2 Chinook helicopters and 42 Singapore Armed Forces personnel stationed at Oakey Army Aviation Centre to RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria.
- 20 firefighters from the US Department of the Interior were deployed to help combat the fires.
- Unions, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union donated $100,000 to “rebuild communities devastated by the fires”, banks, like the Commonwealth Bank, the ANZ Bank, Rio Tinto, and Orica, A$1 million each, actors, singers, like, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Chris Hemsworth, Leonardo Di Caprio, and various Australian sports personalities pledged and raised donations like Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins.
Conclusion: Way forward
Forests are among the most productive land base ecosystems and are essential for the productivity and sustainability among the landowners near forest areas. In order to protect them, many countries have taken part in the development and conservation of the forests. In spite of all the objectives and set goals, increasing global warming and climate changes have affected forests in large fires causing mass destruction to life and property of humans and killing of endangered species in large number.
Australia faces bushfires every summer season, but, due to the high rise in the global warming and heat causing severe drought and rise in the temperature have made the fires more intense and out of control. Awareness among public through social media, newspapers, donations from unions, banks, personalities, support by various countries, goals set by conventions, unions and NGOs has been taken up.
Notable author, Robert Swan has rightly said, “The biggest threat to our planet is believing that someone else will save it”.
Author: Gaurav Sanghi from Amity University, Rajasthan.
Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.