Australian Bushfire Crisis

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: September 13th, 2023

Australia is being ravaged by the worst wildfire for several weeks now. It is the worst fire season in 20 years. As per Reuters report, the fire has affected more than 10.3 million hectares of forest land so far. Twenty-seven people have died, thousands of people rendered homeless and millions of wild animal has been killed. The Australian government has declared a state of emergency in response to this disastrous fire.

Australian Bushfire Crisis: Location and Extent of Fire; Causes of Fire; Relation with Climate Change; Effects on Biodiversity

Location and extent of Fire:

Australia is known to be the most fire-prone of all continents. There is a fire in almost every state of Australia. New South Wales of Australia has been the hardest hit. Largest cities of Australia like Melbourne and Sydney have also been affected. The scale and intensity of this year fire have been extraordinary. This unprecedented spate of forest fires is going on for more than three months now. As per Australian government data between period 2011 to 2016, about 55 million hectares of forest land, more than 40 per cent of entire forests, had been affected by at least one such fire.

Causes of Fire:

  • Natural reasons- In the hot and dry season, forest fires or wildfire occur across the world. Available material like dry leaves, grass, shrubs or deadwood helps in combustion. Ignition happens naturally (lightning strikes) or accidentally (from sources like cigarette stubs). Wind speed and direction helps in spreading forest fires faster. 
  • Anthropological reasons- clearing land for agriculture or industry purpose, to control an incoming forest fire by removing vegetation, etc.
  • Australia is a driest inhabited continent. It comprises almost 70% area as arid or semi-arid. It has an average annual rainfall less than 350 mm. This shortfall in the rain is being experienced since 2017.
  • Bushfire or wildfire are pretty common every year in summer as it has about 134 million hectares of forest land.
  • Strong winds converged disastrous fire conditions.

Relation to climate change:

  • Almost all indicators of the extraordinary heat and dryness in Australia, which has led to unprecedented forest fires, could directly be linked to climate change.
  • 2007 IPCC Report in its fourth assessment has said that climate change likely to increase the frequency of forest fires in Australia. Data says that it is likely to rise by four to twenty per cent by 2020 and 15 to 70 per cent by 2050. In its recent report, it re-emphasized it. As per the report, in both Australia and New Zealand, fire season length is likely to be extended.
  • As per the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, 2019 happened to be the warmest and driest year of the country since 1900. Temperature is expected to rise up to 105 degrees in the capital, Canberra. 
  • Persistent heat and drought buttressed by positive IOD conditions may have acted as a perfect foil.
  • The warmest year on record for Australia, prolonged drought, severe rainfall deficiency, strong IOD and low soil moisture can be easily attributed to climate change.
  • Other factors like rare stratospheric warming over Antarctica (30-40-degree Celsius temperature higher than normal in the region 10-50 Km from Earth’s surface) could have contributed to unusual heat and dryness in Australia.
  • Considering the fact that Australian summer is not yet over, it is likely to intensify further. It is seen as the biggest climate disaster of our times.

Effects of Fire on Biodiversity:

  • Carbon emission and destruction of carbon sink areas would contribute to global warming.
  • Changes in biomass stocks at the regional and local level.
  • Alteration in the hydrological cycle.
  • Loss of huge biodiversity impacted the functioning of plant and animal species.
  • Destruction of huge grassland areas led to an impoverishment of tropical rainforest system.
  • Severe effects on wildlife as about half a billion animals have been in direct contact, millions likely to be dead. Vulnerable species may face extinction. Entire habitats could have been wiped out.
  • Devastation and displacement of Vertebrates and invertebrates, territorial birds, reptiles, mammals and insects. In New South Wales alone, a third of koalas have been killed.
  • The photosynthetic activity has been reduced because of smoke. This is hazardous to the health of human, plants and animals.
  • Loss of key species like pollinators and decomposers may slow down the recovery of forests.
  • This disastrous fire has affected the marine ecosystem, including coral reefs.
  • Six states of Australia (about 7.3 million hectares of land) have been burned, which is larger than the area affected in Amazon rainforests. This amounts to an area larger than the combined area of Denmark and Belgium.
  • According to ecologists, the real sum is certain to be higher as until fire stops, and there is no way of surveying the extension of damage.

Measures taken:

  • Victoria State has declared a state of disaster and New South Wales declared a state of emergency. Both were granted extraordinary powers and additional government resources to battle fires. Even the state of Queensland briefly declared a state of emergency.
  • Mass evacuation, particularly those living in South-Eastern parts of Australia.
  • More than 2000 firefighters are working. US, Canada and New Zealand have sent additional firefighters. Military assistance has also sent like the army, air force aircraft and navy cruisers for firefighting, evacuation, search and rescue efforts.

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