Mon, February 16, 2009
World > Asia-Pacific > Deadly bushfire in Australia

Australians ponder deep causes behind devastation of worst-ever bushfires

2009-02-13 09:52:30 GMT2009-02-13 17:52:30 (Beijing Time)  

MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Nearly a week after the Victorian bushfires started, the devastation has reached a magnitude beyond what anyone could have imagined: more than 180 lives are lost, almost 2,000 home destroyed and some 7,000 people displaced.

Australians, though no strangers to bushfires, are still shocked and baffled. They could not help wondering what factors are combining to have created the tragedy.

The police now have full evidence to believe that arsonists started the fire, but environmentalists and other experts are in search of causes that make the inferno so uncontrollable and devastating.

In an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Bushfire expert David Packham at Melbourne's Monash University put the blame on the a green movement that opposes controlled clearance in forests.

Fire management has been taking place in Australia for centuries but present policies have changed those practices, Packham said. "If you can reduce your fuels by one-tenth, you actually reduce your fire intensity by one-hundredth."

Ray Nias from the environmental group the WWF told the broadcaster that the recent fires should inspire discussion about whether it is safe to live in some areas of heavy bush-land at all.

"People choose to live in places like the mountain ranges of Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and elsewhere where there is a high bushfire risk and so, you know, we need to realize that people are, more and more people are living in those high bushfire prone areas and that in itself is an issue," Nias said.

The high toll in the bushfires have renewed calls for a nationwide warning system, which has been snarled by privacy laws and bickering between officials for years.

Attorney General Robert McClelland said a plan for a telephone alert system had been before the government since 2004, but state governments had not endorsed it and changes were required to federal privacy laws that bar private numbers from being handed out.

Victorian Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin, frustrated by the delays, said an emergency warning system for the whole of Australia should be set up before the next fire season.

Esplin said the system could be used for a range of emergencies, including bushfires, floods, a terrorist attack or a tsunami. "We must agree on a system and put it in place before the next season," Esplin said.

On a grander level, experts blame global climate change for playing a part in the disaster. They say that the extreme heat and dryness that helped spread the fires are becoming more common as human activity continues to produce greenhouse gases.

Australia is in the grip of the worst drought in a century, which has stretched for more than seven years in some areas and has forced restrictions on water use in the country's big cities.

A government-commissioned report on climate change last year warned that exceptionally hot years, which used to occur once every 22 years, would occur every one or two years, virtually making drought a permanent part of the Australian environment.

Bob Brown, the head of Australia's Greens party, told reporters that the fires are a reminder of the dangers of climate change.

"Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25 percent, 50 percent more," he said. "It's a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change."

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