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Journal Article

Citation

The Lancet. Lancet 2020; 395(10219): 165.

Copyright

(Copyright © 2020, Elsevier Publishing)

DOI

10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30098-2

PMID

31954441

Abstract

28 people dead and rising, tens of thousands forced from their homes, Indigenous communities displaced, up to 1 billion animals dead, and some of the world's most beautiful and unique natural landscapes burned. The sheer scale of Australia's bushfires is hard to comprehend.
Immediate health needs for firefighters, other emergency workers, and displaced people include shelter, food, and water as well as psychological counselling and support for trauma, grief, and loss. Many of the survivors are in remote areas that have had historically poor access to mental health services, now further exacerbated. Access to essential medicines is under threat, particularly for isolated groups and rural communities. Primary health-care systems are under unprecedented strain without adequate disaster planning systems at local, state, or federal levels. Residents of Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra are repeatedly breathing the world's worst quality air, with thick clouds of smoke shrouding the cities, sometimes for days on end. And economic devastation to livelihoods and property could have an impact on the social determinants of health for years to come.
The public health crisis is acute in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. Sandro Demaio, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), told The Lancet, “Beyond the immediate physical danger from the fires themselves and the isolation of entire communities—cut off from power, communications and even road access—there's the hazards of prolonged smoke exposure, which is of particular concern for children, the elderly, and those with respiratory difficulties including asthma. These fires are affecting the air quality of millions of people, including as far as New Zealand and South America.”

... The bushfires were expected, and fires of this size and spread have been feared by climate scientists for many years already, with links firmly established between rising global temperatures and conditions that enable bushfires. The Australian Medical Association declared climate change a health emergency in September, 2019, and fire officials’ warnings have gone unheeded for more than 4 months. Government politicisation and denial of climate science has hindered the disaster response and added to the frustration and anger. Short spells of cooler weather or rain might bring temporary respite, but it is still early in the bushfire season and worse may yet come. As the 2019 report of the Australian MJA–Lancet Countdown noted in its new indicator for wildfire exposure, “Climate change is causing fire seasons to start earlier and finish later, and anomalous meteorological conditions have been linked to a trend towards more extreme fire events.”
How will Australia recover? There is a national sense of grief shared by individuals, families, and communities for the collective loss of life, country, and for the future. The instinctive urge to alleviate the overwhelming sadness and shock is being channelled into a positive community response, as artists, writers, and activists mobilise fundraising to support the voluntary fire services ...


Language: en

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