"Up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed," Australia's environment minister, Sussan Ley, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We'll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made."
Even before the fires, Australia's koala population was in peril. The Australian Koala Foundation said earlier this year that there were less than 80,000 of the animals living in the wild, a number that might be too low to breed enough healthy offspring to produce another generation.
Impact of wildfires
There have been more than 7,000 fires since July with well more than seven million acres across the country destroyed, most of that in NSW. The damage there is 1.5 times the 2018 California wildfires and over three times as much as the latest Amazon wildfires. At least seven civilians have died and more than 1,100 homes have been destroyed. According to reports, there were 829 homes destroyed, 333 homes damaged and over 7,000 homes saved in NSW alone. However, over 100 homes in that state are suspected to be impacted but have not been confirmed and are not included in the above numbers. In South Australia, almost 100,000 acres have been burned, 86 homes have been destroyed and 27 have been damaged.
Smoke and causing air pollution
Authorities say the smoke that has smothered Sydney, Canberra and other centres and towns in recent weeks has produced pollution up to 11 times greater than the hazardous level for human health. In Sydney, the air pollution has been hazardous for at least 30 days.
NSW’s director of environmental health, Richard Broome, told reporters the state was enduring “an unprecedented emergency from a smoke point of view”. “We haven’t seen conditions like this in Sydney, certainly in anyone’s memory that I’ve spoken to,” he said.
Broome said there is early evidence that the number of people turning up at hospital emergency departments needing help is higher than usual. Dr Kate Charlesworth, a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said there was no safe level of air pollution, and that the most vulnerable in the community – babies, children, the elderly and people with pre-existing disease – were the most likely to be affected.
How we can help
As with all disasters and large-scale emergencies, it is much more effective to donate money to groups already engaged and coordinating on the ground at the disaster site. They often have the ability to take that monetary donation and double or triple its value through their local partnerships. Do not donate hard goods such as clothing, food and water, medications or other items unless there is a specific request from an organization already working in Australia. Organizations engaged in this disaster are already stretched beyond their capacity, and they are unable to effectively receive, sort or distribute donated goods at this time. The largest critical need will be appropriate resources and funds to be able to rebuild communities, houses and other structures in ways that are resilient towards extreme wildfires. Given the large number of volunteer firefighters, there is also a need to support them with proper equipment and to help stabilize their incomes after being away from work for several weeks.