Australians protest as bushfire haze sparks health fears

Demonstrators raise placards at a climate protest rally in Sydney on December 11, 2019. Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on December 11 demanding urgent climate action from Australia’s government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 December 2019

Australians protest as bushfire haze sparks health fears

  • Many of the protesters voiced anger at the government’s silence in the face of the crisis
  • Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organizers put the figure at 20,000

SYDNEY: Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia’s government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.

Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.

On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia’s biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be canceled.

The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.

Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organizers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protesters voiced anger at the government’s silence in the face of the crisis.

“The country is on fire” said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians’ response as “pathetic.”

“Our government is not doing anything about it,” said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. “No one is listening, no one is doing anything.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison — a staunch backer of Australia’s vast coal industry — has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.

Organizer Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government’s inaction.

“I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now,” she told AFP.

“People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives.”

As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.

“For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat,” top health department official Richard Broome said.

“However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms.”

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people’s lungs and cause
“severe” health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.

“The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone,” he wrote in The Conversation.

“But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them.”

Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.

Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 — when almost 200 people died — the scale of this year’s devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.

Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt — the size of some small countries — and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.

Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.


Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

The wreckage of the car where six French aid workers, their local guide and the driver were killed by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2020

Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

  • Attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group of aid workers as they drove through the giraffe reserve
  • France has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert

NIAMEY: French and Nigerien soldiers searched through a giraffe reserve and the surrounding area in Niger on Monday for traces of the gunmen who killed six French aid workers, a French military source said.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor also opened an investigation into the incident, in which attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group as it drove through the reserve located 65 km (40 miles) from the capital Niamey — an area considered safe by the Niger government.
The French aid workers were employed by the charity ACTED. A local driver working for the relief group and a guide were also killed. ACTED called the murders “senseless and cowardly.”
“This heinous crime must not go unpunished, nor will it distract us from our commitment to support the people of Niger,” said ACTED, which has worked to help vulnerable populations in the country since 2010.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault. But France and other countries have warned people against traveling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Daesh operate.
“Military operations are ongoing today,” the military source said.
In the clearest sign yet that France believes a militant group was behind the attack, the office of France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said it was launching an investigation on suspicion of the involvement of a terrorist group.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he shared their families’ grief. “Our determination to combat armed terrorist groups is resolute. The fight continues,” Macron tweeted.
The reserve southeast of Niamey is home to West Africa’s last sizeable population of giraffe in the wild. In the wet season, thick green acacia bushes dot the flat, sandy plains.
It is a popular attraction in Niger, a vast country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
France, a former colonial power in the region, has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. The United States also has soldiers based in Niger.
Nonetheless, militant violence has been on the rise.