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From the President - February 2020

25 Jan 2020 11:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Dear Fellow Members, welcome to 2020.

The disastrous start to the year with the devastating bushfires has affected people in so many regions, our ecosystems, wildlife and local economies. I do hope that all RGSQ members and their families have stayed safe.

As I have a professional interest in disaster management, I would like to share one aspect of the bushfire response. It is now widely recognised that resource capacity for dealing with the increasing scale and severity of natural disasters within individual countries across the Asia-Pacific necessitates greater international cooperation. In terms of fighting large-scale bushfires, we have already seen many examples of international cooperation between Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

Australia and New Zealand have long-standing reciprocal first-response exchange arrangements of disaster and emergency personnel. This has included Australian Search and Rescue personnel deployed to the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and New Zealand fire fighters to the current 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged bushfire-fighting support in November 2019 and we have seen on-going contingents of NZ fire-fighters arriving from across the Tasman throughout this summer. Highlighting the scale of the catastrophic bushfires was the unwelcome gift from Australia of the smoke and ash to New Zealand which has "caramelised" the normally pristine white Tasman Glacier in early January some 3000km away from the actual burn!

Satellite imagery showing the south-east drift of smoke from Australia to New Zealand.

Source: Bureau of Meteorology 1 Jan at 10:40am.

For the past two decades, Australia, Canada and the US have exchanged personnel and equipment during major fires in their respective countries. In July 2018, around 200 Australian firefighters were deployed to the United States to help battle bushfires across the north-west of the nation. In January this year, for the first time, the NSW Rural Fire Service called upon the US for a reciprocal fire-fighting response. Canadian firefighters have left freezing conditions in their homeland to help fight Australian bushfires this summer, giving up Christmas with their families to do so. Fortunately, the Canadian and US personnel operate on similar systems to those in Australia, so the teams add value to our firefighting operations very quickly.

A major emerging issue for fire authorities in terms of international cooperation is that there are no longer very distinctive “fire seasons” in different parts of the globe. Climatic conditions are producing seasonal fire weather and conflagrations that overlap between the northern and southern hemispheres. Longer fire seasons threaten to disrupt the sharing of vital personnel and equipment. Australia could previously rely on hiring specialist water-bombing aircraft and equipment from north America during our summers. Those exchange arrangements could be strained as the combination of climate change, more droughts, high temperatures and winds and lengthening fire seasons produce more severe blazes. Critical resources may be needed at the same time in both Australia and California, for example. The lengthening of fire seasons has also meant there have been shorter and fewer safe “windows” within which to carry out controlled burning for fuel-reduction – the limitations on this being the actual drought and weather, not any restrictions placed on fuel-reduction according to fire authorities (NSW Rural Fire Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, Jan 8th 2020).

I look forward to seeing you at the RGSQ Welcome night on 4th February. We will be presenting activities for the Society’s year ahead and offering a delicious welcome supper. We will also have a raffle, so bring along your small change.

Iraphne Childs, President


The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland Ltd
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