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Australian firefighters face uphill battle as bushfires devastate the country

EPA-EFE/DAVID MARIUZ
Smoke rises from burning hay bales on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, 10 January 2020.

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Gale force winds have fanned two of Australia’s massive bushfires into a feared “mega blaze,” fueling fears that fire would spill over the New South Wales-Victoria border in the Snowy Mountains, BBC reported on 10 January, adding that forecasts are for more heat, strong winds and dry lightning. In South Australia, firefighters also battled infernos on Kangaroo Island. In parts of both states, residents were told to leave their homes.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people across Australia took part in protests on 10 January, demanding the Australian government take immediate action against climate change and do more to stop the bushfires that continue to ravage across the country.
The protests, organized by national student organization Uni Students for Climate Justice, were set to take place in nine cities including Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, indicating widespread public discontent after months of increasingly deadly fires, CNN reported, showing protest signs that read “Koalas Not Coal,” “Change the System, Not the Climate” and “Sack ScoMo,” with many directing their anger at Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been strongly criticised for what they see as a inadequate response to the fires and for his climate policies, as well as support for coal mines.
According to CNN, the protests pushed for five main demands: funding for firefighters, relief and aid for affected communities, land and water sovereignty for indigenous communities, an immediate transition toward renewable energy, and a “just transition” for workers in the fossil fuel industry. Morrison was widely criticized for taking a vacation to Hawaii as fires raged in NSW last month.
A total of 27 people have reportedly died this fire season, around 2,000 homes have been destroyed and an estimated billion animals have been affected. State and federal authorities have been scrambling to respond, with thousands of firefighters on the ground and billions of dollars allocated in federal aid.
Australia saw its hottest and driest year on record in 2019 due to two specific weather phenomena and climate change, the Bureau of Meteorology said on 9 January.
Crisis takes a vast toll on wildlife
The crisis has also taken a vast toll on wildlife. An estimated 25,000 koalas were killed when flames devastated Kangaroo Island last week. More than 1 billion animals are now thought to have been killed by the record-breaking wildfires in Australia, according to Chris Dickman, a professor of ecology at the University of Sydney, whose new estimate is more than double what he predicted mere weeks ago, NBC reported. Dickman revised his estimate of 480 million animals affected by the fires, saying on 8 January that more than 800 million animals have likely been killed in the Australian state of New South Wales alone.
The updated figure includes animals killed directly by the fires and those that have already died by indirect causes, such as starvation, dehydration or habitat loss. The estimate includes mammals, birds and reptiles, but does not include frogs, insects and other invertebrates. That means the number of animals affected nationally likely exceeds 1 billion, NBC quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, celebrities have been raising money to help with the fire victims.
Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Earth Alliance environmental organisation will donate $3 million to help wildfire relief efforts in Australia, CBS/AP reported. The foundation said 9 January that it has started the Australia Wildfire Fund to help with an “international response to the catastrophic bushfires” currently raging in the country. Comedian Celeste Barber has raised $32 million for Australia wildfire relief while Chris Hemsworth has pledged $1 million.
Volunteers and crews from Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Service have been doing what they can to help some of the kangaroos, koalas, lizards, and birds that can be rescued and treated.

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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