Over the past few months, Australia has been on the news all over the world. The country is currently facing one of the worst bushfire season it has ever faced. Record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought have had such a negative impact on the country’s natural environment.
Since September at least 25 people have been reported dead and thousands homeless.
Which zones were affected?
Basically, every state and territory in Australia has been affected by fires this summer. But the biggest fires are located along stretches of the eastern and southern coast, this is where most of the Australian population lives. This area includes the cities of Sidney and Adelaide.
How large is the affected zone?
The zone covers more than 6.3 million hectares which is about 63,000 sq. km or 15.6 million acres. To have an idea one hectare is more or less the size of a sports field.
How did the fires in Australia start?
Because of it weather Australia has always had a "fire season". That is bushfires that start due to high temperatures. The only particular difference this season is that this year they are much worse.
They usually originate by lightning strikes or accidentally by a spark, however, some are also started deliberately.
Is climate change the cause of the Australia fires?
This year a natural phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole has brought a hot, dry wave across the country.
The rising levels of CO2 is warming the planet and Australia has been experiencing a significant rise in temperatures over recent decades and is expected to continue doing so according to scientists
In 2019, Australia set new temperature records twice. On December 18th an average maximum of 41.9C was recorded. This came following a long period of drought.
This hotter, drier climate will contribute to fires being more frequent. These extreme weather patterns and higher temperatures mean a higher risk of bushfires and a higher possibility for them to spread faster and wider.
How are fires being fought?
The technique employed by firefighters has been spraying water and fire retardant from the air with planes and helicopters and at the same time from the ground.
More often than not authorities have to focus on stopping the spread, rather than putting the fire out because it is extremely difficult. The priority is to save lives so most of the time the focus is on containing the bushfires.
For example, the spread can be contained by digging earth boundaries which stop the flames from spreading.
Everyone hands on!
The response to the fires has been unprecedented. Professional firefighters are right in the frontline but are outnumbered by the thousands of volunteers that have shown up to fight the flames. Three volunteers have died in the process.
There is international help also: the US, Canada, and New Zealand have all sent firefighters to help.
Australia's police, military, and navy are hard at work in rescue and evacuation efforts.
Animals have died in the fires.
Fires are usually devastating on wildlife. People can flee and can be evacuated if needed. It is accounted that half a billion animals have died in NSW alone.
It is not just about the animals that have died but also about the destroyed habitat. Those animals that were saved or managed to escape the fires are now vulnerable and will remain so because of the destruction of their natural habitat. It is still unclear the scale of the losses.
Local farmers have also suffered great losses. Experts are saying that 100,000 cows and sheep have been lost.
What is the government's role in the situation?
The government in each state manages its own emergency operation. Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister has promised an additional A$2bn ($1.4bn; £1bn) for the recovery, better funding for firefighting and payouts for volunteer firefighters.
One of the main issues of this problem has been the fact that the national government is facing strong criticism from its opponents. They claim that the current government has fallen short of appropriate actions to mitigate climate change.