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Reflections: Bushfires in Australia — no end in sight

<p>Firefighting during the 1939 Black Friday bushfires, Victoria</p>

Natural Resources and Environment Victoria

<p>Firefighting during the 1939 Black Friday bushfires, Victoria</p>

Here are some extracts from a United Nations Environment Programme report on the devastating Australian bushfires from 2019–20.

Impacts of the Australian bushfires

1. Direct effects

Over 18 million hectares burned, destroying over 5900 buildings including over 2800 homes. In addition to human deaths, many millions of animals are reported to have been killed.

2. Ongoing impacts on nature

An estimated billion animals, and many more bats and insects, are likely to die in total as a result of lost habitat and food sources.

3. Public health

The effects range from eye and throat irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, asthma and premature death.

4. The impacts of the fires crosses borders

Bushfires have led to hazardous air quality in major cities throughout Australia.

5. Mental health costs

Mental distress from the experience of emergency evacuation and losing homes, pets, belongings, livestock or other sources of livelihoods.

6. Economic costs

Infrastructure has been damaged and this impact extends to industries such as farming and tourism.

7. Global warming

When bushfires burn they release carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide is gas which stops heat from escaping the earth’s atmosphere. Trees are also able to absorb carbon dioxide so fewer trees also leads to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

8. Environmental costs: pollution

Ash from the fires has landed in school playgrounds and backyards, and is being washed up on Australia’s beaches and into freshwater stores and water catchments.

9. Agricultural impacts

The bushfires have scorched pasture, destroyed livestock and razed vineyards.

10. Public attitudes are changing

This bushfire season has given Australians, and the watching world, an insight into a changing and warming climate.

UN Environment Programme, Ten Impacts of the Australian bushfires,…, viewed 2 October 2020 

1. Which of the UN’s 10 impacts are you most concerned about? Discuss with your class what you and your community could do to help, then write down your ideas.

2. What does this case study help you understand about the causes and impacts of bushfires in Australia?

Finding out more

You can read about another recent bushfire in Australia on the National Museum of Australia’s Defining Moments in Australian history website at 2003: Canberra’s bushfires kill four people and destroy 500 homes

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