During the summer of 2019, Australia was hit with an unprecedented rash of fires. Fueled by record-breaking heat and months of drought, these fires destroyed a massive amount of land.
These fires not only killed dozens of people, but they also destroyed forests and wildlife habitats. This has put some animals closer to extinction.
Australia’s recent bushfires were one of the most devastating natural disasters in modern history. They killed or uprooted countless families, displaced millions of animals and destroyed vast areas of land.
Scientists have linked the increased frequency and severity of these fires to climate change. The combination of high temperatures and dry weather has turned vegetation into tinder, causing it to burn faster and more intensely.
The resulting smoke has reached Antarctica, New Zealand and other countries in South America, compromising air quality and leading to health concerns such as asthma and premature death. It also pollutes water resources and contributes to the growth of cyanobacteria, which produces chemicals that can affect the taste and odour of drinking water.
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, a total of 18 million hectares have burned as of mid-January 2020, and an additional 2.5 billion hectares were threatened. The fires have ravaged rural and urban areas, with the dairy industry suffering the most damage in Victoria and New South Wales, the country’s key milk-producing states.
As Australia’s bushfires continue to rage, firefighters battle to contain and control them. They also have to worry about the damage they cause to wildlife and infrastructure, such as roads and railways.
These blazes have been fueled by a number of factors, including lightning strikes and a lack of rain that has led to the depletion of fuels and vegetation. But some bushfires are also the result of human activities, such as arson and the burning of trash and debris.
Despite the government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the fires, recovery is likely to take years. It will also cost billions of dollars to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.
It will also be difficult for Australians to recover from the psychological and financial impacts of this disaster. Studies have found that mental health issues are more common after major disasters, and that the impact can be long-lasting.
In addition to the impact on people, the bushfires have caused significant environmental damage and contributed to the loss of biodiversity in Australia. They have destroyed countless acres of eucalyptus forests, which are important for providing carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat and the country’s timber industry.
The Human Impact
As the nation tries to get its bearings after one of the worst fire seasons in history, it is important to consider the effects on people, communities and animals. The bushfires wiped out homes and businesses, killed countless animals, and damaged a massive portion of Australia’s landscape.
In addition to destroying the environment, wildfires can cause significant harm to human health. Smoke can reduce lung function and trigger respiratory diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis. In addition, smoke can disrupt sleep and cause respiratory distress, as well as affect mental health and quality of life.
Although a number of studies have looked at the effect of smoke exposure on physical health symptoms, there has been a dearth of research that looks beyond these direct effects to investigate how it can impact mental health and lifestyle. This study aimed to fill this gap by investigating the impact of bushfire smoke on the lives of a community in eastern Australia, where air quality was particularly hazardous during the bushfire season.
The study included a sample of 222 participants from the Canberra region. They were asked to fill out a survey, in which they reported their health during the bushfire season. The survey also included questions about their previous experiences with bushfires and how the smoke affected them.
Among the participants, a large proportion (58%) had been directly affected by bushfire during the 2019-20 season and 10.5% had experienced severe smoke impacts on their health. This result suggests that direct exposure to fire was an underlying factor in the health effects observed.
Longer term exposure to smoke has been associated with poorer physical health outcomes such as increased odds of reporting sleep disturbance and poorer respiratory health. This is largely because long-term exposure to smoke may exacerbate the onset of chronic conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, which are linked to higher PM2.5 concentrations and longer exposure times.
However, for most of the participants, the effect of the bushfire on their overall health was not a major issue and they felt generally better than before the fire. Furthermore, many of the participants were not smokers and they rated their overall health as good or excellent.
The Environmental Impact
Fires can affect people and their property in a variety of ways. They can cause extensive damage and loss of life, but they are also part of Australia’s natural climatic cycle.
Many of these impacts are associated with air pollution (see Air Pollution Impacts). Smoke and other particles from bushfires can be found throughout Australia’s urban areas, affecting health, as well as the environment. In addition, ash from bushfires can wash up on our beaches and into freshwater stores and water catchments, which can lead to water quality issues.
As a result of these impacts, the Australian government has pledged $A2 billion to support bushfire recovery. This will enable local communities to rebuild. It will also provide funding for the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal to support community-led projects that help rural and remote communities recover.
During the 2019/2020 fire season, Australia suffered the highest number of bushfires on record and they were exacerbated by the effects of climate change. These fires caused a catastrophic loss of habitat, human and animal life across eastern-Australia.
In addition to air pollution, the ashes from these fires can contain nutrients, which can stimulate the growth of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). Cyanobacteria can degrade water quality, and produce toxic chemicals, which can be harmful to humans.
The ash also contains heavy metals, which can pose a risk to people. Children and others with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the toxins.
These toxins can cause long-term health problems, such as cancer and heart disease. In addition, ashes from bushfires can contribute to acid rain, which can cause widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure.
One of the greatest impacts of the bushfires was the destruction of habitat and grazing land. This can cause a dramatic reduction in the amount of food that animals have access to. As a result, native animals may have to travel farther to find their usual food sources.
Another important effect of the fires was the impact on Australia’s economy. The fires are estimated to have cost the country A2 billion in lost productivity. This is the equivalent of a 0.2 percentage point dip in GDP for two years.
The Economic Impact
The bushfires caused extensive damage to Australia’s agricultural system and wider food system, causing an estimated $4-5 billion worth of economic losses. This included lost farmland, increased short-term food prices, and the loss of employment in fire-affected areas.
The Australian government has announced that it will commit $A2 billion (US$1.4 billion) to help farmers, businesses and families affected by the bushfires. This includes a national recovery agency that will provide services to assist in the rebuilding process.
According to an AMP Capital report, the fires have resulted in an economic impact of around 0.15 per cent of GDP this financial year, primarily in the March quarter. These costs are mostly due to insurance pay-outs, as well as the cost of fighting the fires and other recovery measures.
In addition, the fires have likely impacted Australian agriculture production in the longer term, as water resources are already challenged by severe drought. The report estimates that the fires could negatively affect output of milk, meat, wool and honey in Australia’s key milk-producing regions.
As a result, food supplies are likely to be strained and consumers may have to face higher food prices in the medium term. This will increase pressure on the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to continue to cut the cash rate.
Moreover, the fires have prompted a broader debate about the relationship between climate change and more intense bushfires. As a result, there has been an increased focus on reducing the risks of bushfires in Australia and improving preparedness for future events.
One way to reduce the risk of a bushfire is to manage the land more effectively, using nature-based solutions to decrease fuel loads and build up soil moisture and carbon stores. Another way is to increase the resilience of fire-prone agricultural structures and infrastructure.
In addition, the use of social movements can influence support for disaster recovery. As an example, the #buyfromthebush campaign has been quite influential in raising awareness for economic recovery of bushfire-impacted communities.