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article imageOp-Ed: Australia speechlessly appreciative of help as fires still burn

By Paul Wallis     Jan 12, 2020 in World
Sydney - The sheer generosity of donations, help on the ground, and kind thoughts has pretty much left the nation speechless. We have no idea what to say, or even how to say it, but we couldn’t possibly be more appreciative.
Right now, we’re still slogging away, minute by minute, through the ongoing crisis. Some cleanup and recovery is up and running, but it’s still “be ready for whatever happens next” for at least another month or so.
We’re used to big bushfires, bad bushfires, and droughts, but not on this scale and not for this length of time. This fire season will be twice as long as normal. Our firefighters achieve nothing less than miracles every fire season, but nobody’s ever seen a fire season like this before.
Fires in the Nullarbor desert blocked roads for a while and it was a first. The Nullarbor is a real desert. How do you burn down a desert? We don’t know, but we’re probably the only nation in history to do so. These fires are that strange.
Meanwhile, the big drought, equally murderous in its own quiet way, is still at work, and that has to be managed, too. We have kids who only see the colour green on screens these days. The drought has gone on for years, without question one of the worst, perhaps the worst ever. The fires pushed the drought out of the headlines, but it also underpins the still incredibly dangerous conditions nationwide.
We’ve had some luck. The Blue Mountains around Sydney have been relatively quiet, for example. That’s lucky because firefighters would have been pulled away from the fires elsewhere to fight them, and the Blue Mountains is a huge area with a lot of people to be protected. A bit of rain has helped, but it’s not the torrential downpours we need to fix both the fires and the drought.
Health and travel warmings- Stay away until things get better
Many countries have issued travel warnings and Australia is definitely not the place to be for air quality. If you have any kind of respiratory issues in particular, stay away. It’s far too dangerous. We’re now assessing the damage and it’s almost impossible to predict the longer term health effects.
Our midsummer heat is bad enough for people who aren’t used to it, let alone now. Super-dry air can be big trouble for health issues even in healthy people. Imagine zero humidity, literally no moisture in the air, mixed with any kind of possible air pollution, and you get the picture.
A bigger future policy picture
Criticism of government responses to the fires has been very loud and continuous. Whatever the views on subjects like climate change, water or anything else. Nobody’s been impressed with what’s seen as slow, inadequate responses to emergencies. The consensus is that we must do all the big things, like allocation of resources, money, etc. a lot better and a lot quicker, than we’ve done things in the current chaos. An enquiry will be conducted into what went wrong and why.
There’s a reason for this almost unanimous opinion. The other bit of incredible luck we’ve had with these bushfires is that everybody on the ground did everything right. Communities, emergency services and everyone else instantly dropped everything and got on with doing the right things. If they hadn’t, these fires would have been much worse, far more destructive, and would have killed a lot more people.
It’s no exaggeration to say the 2019-2020 bushfires have been very like a war. Every house still standing is a victory, every escape from the fires a real achievement. In emergencies, expectations of government are much higher. The “accountancy first” response to these fires hasn’t passed scrutiny.
The state and federal governments looked at the usual funding responses, but this time, the scale of problems was so much bigger. The perception is that our emergency services were put in incredibly dangerous situations for months without adequate resources. The fight on the ground was the critical issue. The accountancy could have waited and couldn’t be done quickly, anyway, because nobody knew how much damage was involved.
Expect to see some fireworks as the enquiry proceeds.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Australian bushfires 20192020, Bushfire donations, firefighter support, government response to bushfires 2019, Australia travel warnings
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