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From natural conflagration to tragic disasters, Australian Wildfires.

Australia's wildfires, which have been spreading since September 2019, are approaching disaster beyond other natural disasters across the world. The sky of Australia, reported by various media outlets around the world, look like a red disaster sky that cannot be thought of as the sky of the earth. Let's find out about the wildfires in Australia that are affecting the world more than ever. Furthermore, let's take a look at the movement to deal with forest fire damage.

 

Forest fires in Australia

In Queensland and New South Wales states of Australia, the number of fires was about 100 in the first week of September 2019. The forest fires, which began on September 2, 2019, in Saraba, near the Gold Coast, quickly spread. With the spread of the flames, wildfires spread across the country by early October. According to Australian media including ABC News on Jan 5, 2020, the fire department in New South Wales state, which is the hardest hit by the fires, said 150 fires are currently burning across the state, and 64 of them are out of control. Thousands of firefighters and a maximum of 3,000 reservists have been called and are fighting the fires, but it is difficult to control due to various factors such as the flame tornado. A fire tornado is a kind of wind vortex that is created when dry and hot air meet with fire, which makes it difficult to extinguish fire quickly or to fly a helicopter. The Australian wildfire burned 11 million hectares of land from September 2019 to January 21, 2020 and it killed 29 people and burned more than 1,400 homes. Damage to Wildlife is also serious. More than 1 billion animals, including kangaroos, koalas and possums, were killed in droves.

 

The causes of the Australian wildfires can be largely referred to as "weird weather phenomena" and "the government’s incompetence." First, forests and land are dry with increased temperatures caused by global warming, and the drier weather also evaporates the remaining moisture. As a result, small fires become large forest fires and last longer. From January to August 2019, the southern half of Australia had the driest weather in history, which served as a condition to fuel the wildfire season. Of the many abnormal climate phenomena caused by global warming, Dipole is the biggest cause of this disaster. Indian Ocean Dipole is an atmospheric ocean phenomenon in which water temperatures drops in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean, and water temperature rises in the western part between early summer and late fall. By the Dipole phenomenon, the precipitation in western part of the Indian Ocean is jumping rapidly due to rising water temperatures, while the eastern part of the Indian Ocean, which has a low water temperature, is experiencing severe drought. That is, air rising from the hot sea descends over Australia, and the falling air creates a heat wave in Australia, driving out moisture and leading to forest fires. More importantly, the consequences of this disaster are speeding up global warming, which is a climate-reactive phenomenon that accelerates larger disasters. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that only New South Wales, where wildfires were the most severe, produced 260 million tons of carbon dioxide, nearly 50 percent of Australia's annual greenhouse gas emissions, and that the actual emissions were likely to be larger.

Not only the abnormal weather conditions, but also the failure of the Australian government to respond in the early stages contributed greatly to the spread of wildfires in Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was elected in August 2018, went to Hawaii from December 16-21, 2019, when a forest fire that started in the southeast spread across Australia. Through Sydney radio during the controversial travel, Prime Minister Morrison said that “"I don't have a hose (water-springs), I don't sit in the control room. Brave firemen will do their job.” Criticism of his irresponsible remarks became stronger, so he returned home in a hurry. Mr. Morrison said the Australian government would spend an additional $1.38 billion to address the disaster, but there have been mounting criticisms that he is still too passive about reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are believed to be the root cause of the fires. Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise over the past four years since 2016, but the government is not proposing a reduction plan that could change the trend. In particular, Morrison argues that there is no 'firm proof' of the link between climate change and environmental conditions that make wildfires worse. But Australia is now burning coal as the world's second-largest coal exporter in 2019, triggering climate change and aggravating its own wildfires. On January 10, 2020, nine major cities including Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra held large-scale rallies that urge the government to deal with climate change. In Melbourne, about 10,000 citizens gathered, chanting "ScoMo has to go." (Morrison's nickname is "ScoMo.) At the rally, citizens criticized the failure of the government to adoptactive countermeasures against Australian fires.

 

Influence of Australian Forest Fire

The economic loss from the Australian forest fires is great. Credit appraiser Moody expected Australia's economic losses from the fires to be more than 4.4 billion U.S dollars (About 5.82 trillion won). The Australian government said they would inject a total of 3.4 billion U.S. dollars (about 4 trillion won) for the restoration work following the forest fires, but experts predicted that it would be not be enough. Economic losses are further increased when costs of various problems are added. These werethe cost of insurance applications and delays from property damage and death. Additionally, there are the costs of climate changes solution, forest fire control and land regeneration. According to the Australian Insurance Association, 5,239 claims related to forest fires have been made, and claims of a minimum of 320 billion won worth have been made. AMP Capital predicted that Australia's GDP growth would decrease by up to 1 percent in 2020 if forest fires persist. The total is 13 billion dollars (About 10.48 trillion won), and Sydney's economy is estimated to lose 5 million dollars (About 10.48 trillion won) a day. In addition, Australia tourism, which takes up the weight of 3 percent of Australia's economy, will very likely lose $1.16 billion (1.35 trillion won) including cancellation of airline tickets and hotel reservations. A tourism business group in Australia has revealed an estimate that the industry's losses from the massive forest fires amounts to 690 million dollars (About 779.7 billion won) as of January 17, 2020. Tourism business group have demanded that the Australia government should provide assistance for the damage caused by the reduction of tourists. According to the Australian Tourism Council, cancellations of accommodation reservations in areas unaffected by the fire are over 60 percent, and tourists do not exist at all in areas affected by the fires. As such, the fires have gone beyond simple economic problems in Australia in hurting the tourism industry.

Not only economic damage but also ecological damage from the wildfires is great. According to NBC, ecologists of Sydney University have estimated that more than 1 billion mammals, birds and reptiles died since the forest fire began in southeastern Australia in September 2019, and expect the number of dead animals to increase exponentially, if wildfires are not contained. They said many of the injured animals are likely to be killed by the fire directly, and the rest of the animals may be killed by the depletion of food and shelter. Actually, Australian SNS show images of a blackened koala receiving medical treatment, a dead animal lying on the ground and a kangaroo desperately fleeing from the flames. On January 5, 2020, CNBC reported, ‘We estimate that about 8,000 koalas (about 30 percent in Australia) died since the fire had started in the area affected by the forest fire.’ The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international environmental organization, currently considers koala an endangered species. In hearing about the forest fires of Australia, Mark Graham, an ecologist of the Sydney University, said "The koala is not capable of escaping quickly from the spread of fires." He also explained that "especially because they eat eucalyptus leaves, which are full of oil, they are weaker in relation to the fires than other animals."

 

 

 

World efforts about Australian wildfires.

In Australia, where the worst forest fires spread, a 13-second short video of teenagers driving their cars to rescue koalas has drawn attention. According to Australia 7 News, on January 7, 2020, 19-year-old Mika and 18-year-old Caleb drove around in Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, rescuing and transferring more than six baby koalas that lost their mothers to shelters. In the public video, Mika and Caleb showed the koala inside the car, saying, "We tried to save as many koalas as we could." Their rescue efforts became widely known on Twitter. After the public watched the rescue video, the boys received the waves of encouraging messages such as "Thank you for rescuing animals with nowhere to go and nothing to eat. (Kr****)"

Efforts to prevent the damage are being made not only in Australia but also in various countries around the world.

Since October 2019, New Zealand sent 157 firefighters and New Zealand troops to Australia to help extinguish Australia’s wildfires. They are deployed on the Edinburgh defense line in Adelaide, southern Australia, and were active at least until the end of January 2020. New Zealand Secretary of Defense Ron Mark said more aid was urgently needed because Australia's wildfires showed no signs of weakening and thousands of homes and many people were in danger. In addition, in December 2019, the Australian fire department submitted an official request for manpower assistance to the Canadian Forest Fire Center in Winnipeg, Canada. So Canadian firefighters returned from their Christmas holidays and volunteered to help Australia which was suffering from severe forest fire. About 100 Canadian firefighters were dispatched to Queensland and New South Wales in Australia. According to CNN, the U.S. Forest Service also sent the ‘Angels National Forest,’ veteran firefighters from California, to Australia on January 4, 2020, and sent additional U.S. firefighters to Australia on January 7 and 10. Australia and the U.S., where wildfires frequently occur due to regional characteristics, have sent and received each other’s fire crews in cases of major disasters.

Activities to pray for the suppression of wildfires in Australia spread briskly by the use of hash tags on Social Network Sites. As of January 20, 2020, the hash tag ‘#prayforAustralia’ on SNS recorded 211,000 postings. At first, the Australian locals used this to communicate the local situation. They shared many pictures of blackened koalas being given water, dead animals lying on the ground with the hash tag ‘#PrayforAustralia’ on their SNS. These many hash tags have become increasingly used for a variety of purposes. Some Internet users share hash tags such as ‘#prayforaustralia’ and ‘#prayforrain’ to raise awareness about climate change.

 

 

Do you think that a natural disasters of wildfire is a problem only in Australia? Other countries besides Australia are also suffering from increased damage from forest fires. Let's find out how other countries rhave had ‘Forest fire damage’.

Forest fires in other countries

Among the countries where wildfires occur, Russia and the U.S. are represented. First, Russia declared a state of emergency in major fire areas, because large forest fires in Siberia spread for more than a month from July, 2019. Forest fires occurred at 447 points, and 300 of them were difficult to extinguish them because of inaccessible topographic feature. As smoke from large forest fires spread to 500 residential areas, residents' health and flight operations were endangered. Russia often is subject to forest fires due to dry weather, but the territory is so large that it takes a long time for the firefighters to arrive at the fire site. Because of these regional characteristics, Russia has a lot of technology to control the fire problems. One of these is ‘Smart fire extinguishers’ which were used to extinguish wildfires in Siberia in 2019. Developed by a Russian government research institute, the ‘Smart fire extinguishers’ is shaped like a ball that contains water and various chemicals. If you throw fire extinguishers at a fire, the water and chemicals inside of it quickly cover the fire, blocking oxygen in the air. Thus the fire is extinguished quickly. Smart fire extinguishers can be used with unmanned aerial vehicles or helicopters by dropping them at the scene of a forest fire. This has recently expanded to the public.

 

Second, in California, U.S., forests, nearly five times the area of Seoul, is burned every year. The largest forest fire in California history occurred in 2018. In total, 7,579 fires burned 665.76 hectares of land. The U.S. introduced the world's first artificial intelligence (AI) fire surveillance system , and opened the possibility that fire can be detected before it spreads. In this way a fire can be put out quickly. From May to June 2020, Alchera, which specializes in video recognition, will monitor wildfires through ‘intelligent forest fire detection system’ with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) that is California’s largest power company. Alchela's technology is drawing attention because it minimizes human involvement in detecting fires. Until now, employees had to look at several CCTVs in the control room to find out if there was smoke, so they mostly found the smoke after the fire had spread. However, Alchela's forest fire detection system uses AI to significantly increase the speed and accuracy of forest fire detection. AI analyzes camera images in real time and issues a warning signal if smoke occurs. An Alchela representative said "When a person sees four CCTVs, their sense of situation drops to less than 50 percent in just 30 minutes." He added, "With the Alchela system, one person can see 40 CCTVs, and the accuracy goes up by 70 to 80 percent."

 

In our country as well as other countries in the world, a wave of consolation for Australian wildfires is spreading. Also, Korea cannot ignore forest fire damage caused by global warming. In response, what is the government doing about the threat of forest fires?

In Korea?

On January 13, 2020, a candlelight vigil was held by 300 organizations, including the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement and the Green United,  in front of the Kyobo Building in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, where the Australian Embassy is located. At the rally, they commemorated the memory of people who died because of Australian forest fires and urged the Korean government to respond actively to climate change. They said in a statement that at least 29 people have died and more than 1 billion animals, including koalas and kangaroos, have lost their lives due to the fires in Australia that is already larger than Korea’s territory. People at the rally also urged the Australian government to recognize the link between wildfire and climate change and take fundamental action. Additionally, they also called on our government to come up with active measures to deal with the climate crisis.

In our country, there has been some damagefrom big forest fires. In April 2019, five cities in Gangwondo, including Sokcho, and Goseong, had fires simultaneously. The forest fire damaged forests and 4,021 houses and the scale was 2,871 hectares. A total of 51 helicopters, 870 fire-control vehicles and hundreds of firefighters were deployed to the forest fires in Gangwondo. The fires are the largest in the country`s history and there were  insufficient resources to control the fire because Korea only had conventional fire-fighting equipment. Lee Chang-hee, former minister of science and technology, said, “The nation's fire budget is only 5 percent of the national budget. The reason why wildfires didn’t spread more on such a tight budget was because of the firefighters’ efforts.” He also criticized, "How long will we leave the sacrifice to the firefighters?"

Through this opportunity, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security announced on January 15, 2020 that they will establish a disaster safety communication network that will be able to transmit pictures and videos as well as voice. The national disaster safety net, which cost 1.5 trillion won in total, will be based on fourth-generation wireless communication technology (LTE) for the first time in the world. In the past, it was difficult to share information or respond to situations because the police, firefighters, maritime police and local governments used different communication networks when a major disasters occurr, such as massive forest fires or a sinking ship. However, if they use the newly established disaster safety communication network, they can share information and respond to the situation quickly. The Ministry of Public Administration and Security explained that it completed the first phase of the project in October 2019 and will provide the service starting in 2020. Kwon Yoon-sup, head of the information and communication and Representative of the National Police Agency, said, "The communication quality using the new network is better than the radio or pilot network that we have used, and we can communicate with other agencies through photos and videos so that we can protect public safety more efficiently."

 

 

The whole world is saddened about the Australian fire and is trying to foster a quick recovery for Australia. Through this wildfire in Australia, many countries as well as Australia need to make more efforts to prevent natural disasters and to have more practical countermeasures. We also need to think about our small efforts in life before natural event turns into terrible disasters. Let's hope the Australian wildfire will soon be extinguished without causing further damage.

 

박아리엘  parkariel2@gmail.com

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