The Australian bushfires, Samoa and our canoe

By Alexander Rheeney 06 January 2020, 12:00AM

We cannot help but notice the bushfires raging across Australia’s New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia states which has already claimed 24 lives. 

Images coming out from Australia through local and international media in recent weeks are disturbing and shocking to many around the world, as footage shows hundreds of rural towns’ residents fleeing, and those unable to leave seeking refuge in lakes and rivers, as the towering infernos razed properties to the ground.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called out 3,000 Australian Defence Force reservists on Saturday as the bushfire threat increased, a couple of days after he had to cut short a family holiday in Hawaii and return home, following widespread public criticism.

The army reservists will be deployed to bushfire-affected communities in the three states while New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian appealed to families in impacted areas to get out while road networks remain open.

With Australia among the first to respond to Samoa’s measles epidemic in October last year, our thoughts and prayers are with Australia, its people and government as they strive to overcome a natural disaster, which has spiralled out of control to claim lives and leave thousands homeless in its aftermath.

For us we are not out of the woods yet with the epidemic, and the death toll remains unchanged at 81 over the last 11 days, with the last Government update reporting a total of 5,667 measles cases since the outbreak was declared in October last year. 

The Australian Medical Assistance Team has departed from our shores, bringing to an end their life-saving eight-week deployment to Samoa. Their health interventions will, no doubt, be needed in Australia during the bushfire crisis.

While we remain vulnerable as a nation, following a deadly measles outbreak that mainly claimed the lives of our children, we haven’t forgotten Australia was the first out of the 10 nations to come to our assistance and it would make sense for the Government to at least offer our condolences and sympathies for the loss of life.

And don’t kid yourself for thinking the Australian bushfires – over 4,600km southeast of Samoa – will not have an impact on life in our island paradise. 

The bushfires will come with an economic cost to Australia and its people, which could have an impact directly and indirectly on Samoans, who are resident in the worst affected states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Economists are already projecting that loss of staff productivity, interruptions to transport systems and cuts in spending could see Sydney’s GDP slashed by $12-$50 million a day.

Jobs could go on the line if the losses continue and could potentially inhibit the ability of Samoans to send home remittances to families on the island.

Not forgetting the half a billion mammals, birds and reptiles that ecologists estimate could have been lost to the bushfires since September last year.

Thankfully, there was some respite overnight with reports of ‘milder temperatures’ descending on the affected areas, though 150 fires remain active in NSW with 64 of them beyond control.

But the bushfire disaster that has been burning since September last year has yet again put the spotlight on the Australian government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s climate change record

Newspapers in Australia and around the world have been publishing commentary pieces in recent days critical of Mr Morrison. The UK The Guardian had “Australia’s pathetic PM reveals much about the right’s effort to deny reality”, the New York Times ran “Australia is committing climate suicide”, while Sydney Morning Herald recently had “The world has made the link between Australian coal, fires and climate.”

For us here in the Pacific, the goal post on climate change has not changed. We are living it and are being forced by the increasing severity of storms, floods and droughts in different parts of the islands to adjust – despite being miniscule CO2 emitters.

We hope the leaders of our friends in the region such as Australia, acknowledge the calamitous natural disasters they now face, and join us on our canoe in our strive to address climate change.

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

By Alexander Rheeney 06 January 2020, 12:00AM

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