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If Bushfires Are ‘Common’ In Australia, Why Have A Billion Animals Died This Time?

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

Whenever I have opened an account on any social media platform, my bio essentially reads, “A thing for Koalas clinging on Eucalyptus trees”. Why koalas? They are some of the most unique creatures, only found in Australia. Later, an acquaintance corrected me by saying koalas are just koalas, they are not koala bears!

An injured Koala.

Today, the land of koalas and kangaroos is burning at an unprecedented rate. People had created dummies of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which burned down last year in Paris, to evoke emotions as to how much biological devastation happened over the past few months.

As a generation, we are thankful to Australia and Australians, such as late Steve Irwin and his son Robert Irwin, who gave us an insight into how diverse and beautiful the planet Earth is. The continent-cum-country, known for having some weird, unusual, and peculiar species, is reeling under a heavy climate crisis.

While I was pursuing my Master’s program, I was fortunate enough to learn about Australia, mostly about its geography, environment, and water governance by some guest lecturers from Deakin University. Some of the major Australian cities thrive on the Murray-Darling river basin; Murray and Darling being two of the longest rivers in Australia.

An aerial view of the Darling River near Menindee in the far west of the Basin, in New South Wales. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If one would look at a map of Australia carefully, all the major cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, lie on the eastern margin of the continent, with Perth being on the western margin, and Darwin situated in the north of Australia. More than 40% of Australia is uninhabitable owing to its deserts and due to the prevalence of Type B climate classification (Koppen climate classification).

The Great Barrier Reef. Source: lockthegate/Flickr

Let’s also remember that the Great Barrier Reef, situated in this very continent, is facing the problem of coral bleaching due to the warming up of the seas.

Australia is an extremely drought-prone continent. It suffered from the famous Millennium Drought, from 2000-2009, that devastated communities, industries, habitats, and industries that rely on the Murray River. This drought affected most of southern Australia, including its largest cities and largest agricultural region (the Murray-Darling basin).

The year 2006 was the driest on record for many parts of the country, and conditions remained hot and dry through to early 2010. The emergence of La Niña weather conditions in 2010 rapidly ended the drought and led to floods in some locations.

The drought placed extreme pressure on agricultural production and urban water supply in much of Southern Australia. It has led to the construction of six major seawater desalination plants to provide water to Australia’s major cities, and to changes in the management of water in the Murray–Darling basin, particularly the formation of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority.

So, why am I telling you all of this? As in giving a prelude to the Australian bushfires? Because it is extremely important to understand the climate of a region before understanding climate change.

What’s Causing The Bush Fires In Australia?

For most parts of the world, it is the winter season now, but for Australia it is summer. I met an old childhood friend, at the Dibrugarh Airport a couple of days earlier, who is currently studying in Australia and said that she is enjoying her vacations in India because of her summer break and her university opens in February! In short, people there go to the beach on Christmas.

Now, bushfires are typically common in Australia, which also is referred to as the fire season. Also, in 2019, temperature as high as 42 degrees Celsius had been recorded in the continent, along with large CO2 emissions and prolonged drought periods.

Many firefighters have also been critically injured and killed while attempting to control the blaze.

The continent is also affected by the ‘Indian Ocean Dipole’ phenomenon, which is responsible for causing a hot and dry spell for the country. The Indian Ocean Dipole is also known as the ‘Indian Nino’ because of its similarity with El Nino. In this phenomenon, there is a difference in the sea surface temperatures in opposite parts of the Indian Ocean.

A positive Indian Ocean dipole means a wetter west and a drier east, i.e., the sea surface temperature will be warmer on the African margin which will bring in more rain and the sea surface temperature will be colder on the Australian front thus causing drought-like conditions.

Therefore, a negative dipole would just bring in the opposite conditions, i.e., warmer water and greater precipitation in the eastern Indian Ocean, and cooler and drier conditions in the west. The dipole has resulted in heavy floods in Eastern Africa, with the horn of Africa seeing some of the worst floods and has caused a mega blaze like conditions in Australia.

Floods and landslides ripped through areas of West Pokot on 23 November, 2019. Photo; Kenya Red Cross

In both the continents, the situations have been predicted to become worse in the coming days. Already, around 300 people have died and over 2.8 million people have been affected due to the floods in the African countries. Some countries that have been affected include Djibouti, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia.

On the other hand, 25 people have already lost their lives in the bushfires of Australia, and around half a billion animals have been reported dead, causing ‘extinction-like’ conditions for the rich biodiversity that Australia has to offer. The fires are so bad that it has engulfed areas which are larger than some of the European countries!

There has also been news that over ten thousand camels are to be culled as they have been drinking more water in the drought-like conditions. This presents a very sad picture of the future of the globe.

The bushfires have gone out of control, with many firefighters lives at stake, who are also not paid well, during these grieving hours. Pictures and videos of animals hugging people and being fed food and water after getting saved are going viral over social media platforms.

At the same time, some images, which are mostly artistic creations of the bush fires, have been going viral too. This includes a map of Australia, which also has been tweeted by many celebrities, but has been found to be misleading, according to a report by the BBC.

Artist Anthony Hearsey’s visualisation that is being misinterpreted as a map showing the live extent of fire spread.

The current Australian government has been caught under a storm of criticisms, as they have been accused of not doing enough to tackle the ongoing crisis in particular, and climate change in general. PM Scott Morrison was heckled by bushfire victims and was criticised online when he was forcibly seen lifting a woman’s hand for a handshake.

He was also attacked for escaping from the ongoing crisis and taking a holiday to a Hawaiian Island. He is now being popularly referred to as Australia’s absent PM.

Although the bushfires were not human-induced, yet, due to climate change there are greater chances of it becoming even more violent. Already, the devastation has caused losses amounting to billions of dollars. It is about time the world got together to help Australia come out of this devastating crisis!

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    Where is the answer to the question mentioned in Title?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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