More than twenty professional medical organizations, including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians – which brings together 25,000 doctors and trainees – published a joint press release on Monday, December 16, calling on the government to tackle toxic air pollution linked to fires that have enveloped Australia's largest city for weeks. "Air pollution in New South Wales is a public health emergency", stressed this Climate and Health Alliance.
Hundreds of forest fires, notably linked to climate change, have ravaged Australia since September. "Smoke from fires has caused air pollution up to eleven times higher than what is estimated to be dangerous in parts of Sydney and New South Wales", according to the press release. This smoke "Is particularly dangerous due to high levels of fine PM 2.5 particles", he specifies.
Respiratory problems on the rise
Health services in the state recorded a 48% increase in the number of people going to the emergency room for respiratory problems in the week ending December 11, compared to a five-year average. This figure reached 80% on December 10, when air quality deteriorated considerably in Sydney. The next day, nearly 20,000 people demonstrated in the city to demand that the government fight climate change.
The Alliance also called on the government to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying that climate change is making these fires worse. "Devastating effects on human health". Rarely, the Australian Prime Minister admitted last week that climate change was one of the "Factors" behind hundreds of devastating fires. Scott Morrison, however, has defended Australia’s track record in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has not announced any measures to tackle climate change.
Three million hectares destroyed by flames
More than a hundred fires were still burning on Monday, also in New South Wales, where major efforts were made to contain a 400,000 hectare fire near Sydney. Twenty homes were destroyed overnight from Sunday to Monday by a fire fire started by firefighters to fight the largest fire. Near Perth, in the state of Western Australia, fires threaten several cities. Such fires occur every year on the huge island continent during the spring and summer of the south. But this year, the fire season was particularly precocious and violent. Six people have already perished while seven hundred houses and at least three million hectares have been destroyed.
These particularly devastating fires are linked, according to scientists, to climate change and a particularly prolonged drought which has also exhausted the drinking water resources in certain cities and forced farmers to abandon their land. Official data indicates that 2019 will be one of the warmest and driest years on record in Australia. This week, the country could experience a heat wave which, according to forecasters, should break temperature records, making the job of firefighters even more difficult.