The Red & Black
January 2020 Issue

Bushfires Continue to Rage Across Australia

Wildfires are a common occurrence in Australia, with bushfire season normally lasting through the southern hemisphere’s spring and summer. Some plants have even adapted to wildfires, and Aboriginal Australians have used fire as a way to encourage plant growth and facilitate hunting.

However, after Europeans had gained control of Australia, the purposeful act of burning land decreased, trees were cut down, and pasture grass was cultivated. This resulted in a surge of shrub growth and many areas of Australia became prone to wide-spread wildfires.

While it is typical for Australia to experience bush, they have never been as severe a situation as the one they are currently facing. A monster brushfire has been burning since September 2019, burning over an estimated 46 million acres of land and roughly 2,500 homes.

Over 1 billion animals are estimated to have perished in the fires, with 28 human deaths resulting from the flames. Smoke from the fires pose a hazard towards millions of citizens of Australia’s eastern coast, with the air quality in Sydney exceeding hazardous levels for the last month.

Hospitals have reported a 25% increase in respiratory-related illnesses, and doctors predict that many may suffer from lung cancers, and respiratory and heart diseases from smoke inhalation in the years to come. Climate change has been attributed to the ferocity of the wildfires.

For centuries Australia has dealt with droughts, however the intensity of those in recent years are orders of magnitude more severe. These droughts have resulted in major water shortages, with Australian cities facing the danger of running out of water in 2019.

Additionally, the land down-under has seen a steady increase in annual temperatures for decades. Since the start of the 1900’s, Australia’s average annual temperature has increased by almost 1°C. In recent days, Australia has received rainfall and milder conditions, which helped bring some relief for those fighting the fires.

Despite this, the wildfires are expected to continue to burn for the next several months. It is important to raise awareness, and there are many reliable organizations that people can donate to support relief efforts like the Australian Red Cross.

Puerto Rico Rocked by Earthquakes

Thousands of Puerto Ricans remember a time where their country was a vivacious island glowing with energy. They remember the streets that were once overflowing with people, and they remember the feelings of elation and unity that filled up inside them whenever they stepped outside, into their small, incredible world where everyone was considered family. But now, a series of heartbreaking earthquakes have ravaged the island, spreading a deep, foreboding fear through the entire country.

On Tuesday, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the town of Guánica and a series of strong aftershocks, such as a 6.0 tremor occuring on the following Saturday, have only made things worse. These earthquakes have knocked out power for almost 60,000 people and leaving thousands more without water. As of this article’s writing, more than 8,000 people are still in shelters; many are afraid to return to their homes and substantial damage have left others unable to. All public schools are shut down and they will not be allowed to reopen until another round of inspections take place. 

Damages are already estimated to be around $110 million. On Saturday, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced signed a request for a “major disaster declaration,” requiring approval from the White House. This request would release more resources to re-establish the power grid, as well as to provide building inspectors and assistance for individuals in need of help.

Puerto Rico, a territory of the U.S. whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens but are not able to vote in U.S elections and have no representation in either house of Congress, has already had its fair share of hardships. In the past two years alone, the island has dealt with Hurricane Maria in 2017 which devastated the country and protests against the former governor, Ricardo Rosselló, this past summer, who was eventually forced out of office. 

This series of disastrous events has left the entire country traumatized and especially distrustful of government officials, not to mention forever scarring the vulnerable population of children. In April, Psychologist Rosaura Orengo-Aguayo of the Medical University of South Carolina published a report analyzing a public school survey reporting that 1 in 14 of Puerto Rican children showed post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. In her report, Orengo-Aguayo mentioned that even though people who live through adversity naturally build resiliency, she had serious concerns that Puerto Ricans were dealing with extreme amounts of stress and anxiety, which could have devastating effects.