In a delayed response to the bushfires that have caused irreparable ecological and immense economic loss in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday established a National Bushfire Recovery Agency to co-ordinate recovery efforts ranging from rebuilding infrastructure to providing mental health support even as authorities struggled to tackle the raging bushfire crisis which has so far claimed the lives of 24 people. The agency, headed by former federal police chief Andrew Colvin, will help bushfire affected communities recover, media reports said.
Prime Minister Morrison has also cancelled his planned first visit to India from January 13 due to the catastrophic bushfire crisis.
Morrison has been facing widespread criticism in Australia for his handling of the crisis, particularly, for taking a family vacation in Hawaii at the start of the wildfire crisis, with many people complaining about the lack of readiness in utilisation of resources. Last week, he was heckled when he visited a township in New South Wales where houses have been destroyed and one of them belonged to one of the three volunteer firefighters who have died in the crisis.
Australia is experiencing a devastating fire season that is expected to grow worse as the summer months continue. Record high temperatures and drought exacerbated by climate change have ignited blazes that have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and nine million acres and killed 18 people. An estimated half billion mammals, birds and reptiles have been killed since the bushfires started in September, according to ecologists from the University of Sydney. The actual number is likely much higher.
Australian authorities continued to struggle with the ongoing bushfire crisis across several states including Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, the PM announced that an additional $2 billion over two years will be made available to support bushfire recovery efforts and rebuild the towns decimated by the crisis.
Scott Morrison has called up 3,000 military reserve troops to combat the bushfires, the first time that reservists were called up in such a large number “in the living memory”. In a press conference in the Parliament house on Saturday, he said, “I want to start by extending my sincere condolences and sympathies once again to all of those Australians and families who’ve lost loved ones during the course of these devastating bushfires. Twenty-three confirmed deaths to date and we are facing another extremely difficult next 24 hours.”
Fresh warnings have been issued to hundreds of people sheltering in New South Wales’ coastal town of Eden with authorities urging them to vacate the area immediately.