3 July, 2020

Blog

Terrible Australian Bushfires & Fire-Hawks: Lessons For Sri Lanka!  

By Mohamed Harees –

Lukman Harees

Australia, known for its natural environment, is under the international spotlight as bush fires are spreading across vast tracts of the country, widely seen as unprecedented for their intensity, scale and timing. Shocking images of this devastation are reverberating around the world, which has already killed at least 18 people, destroyed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homes in regional areas of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia and burnt more than 5 million hectares. Another distressing news, was that scientists believe almost half a billion mammals, birds and reptiles have also been killed during the last four months across Australia. In New South Wales a third of the state’s koala colony – around 8,000 bears – are thought to have been wiped out by the fires. Many Australians dropped their ordinary lives to battle the nation’s raging fire crisis, as part of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS).

Anger over the government’s handling of the crisis has grown since the outbreak. The Australian PM Scott Morrison, was reportedly heckled out of a fire-ravaged town in New South Wales, with the locals later saying that he received the welcome he probably deserved, as a mass evacuation of the region got under way ahead of worsening conditions. Experts widely agree that a changing climate is increasing the likelihood of bush fires and that more extreme fires are likely to become more common as temperatures continue to rise in the future. There is increasing evidence that climate change is driving more drought conditions, particularly in the mid-latitudes where Australia sits. There is extremely strong evidence that temperature increases are being driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Climate change is defined as the change in global or regional climate patterns. Factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, and certain human activities have been identified as primary causes of ongoing climate change, often referred to as global warming. Scientists and environmentalists actively work to understand past and future climate by using observations and theoretical models. 

While acknowledging a link between reducing emissions and the risk of bush fires, Aussie PM however has dismissed calls to take stronger action to combat climate change, insisting that current policy takes a balanced approach. Critics accuse the government of using accounting tricks to avoid making reductions in emissions that are large enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change.  According to analysts, the politics of denial relating to climate change could hardly be more different in Australia than they appear to be elsewhere. They say, Australia has been unable to reach an enduring consensus about even the core elements of a policy response to an issue that scientists agree will present enormous challenges to this vulnerable continent. And, on the rare occasions a consensus has appeared to be forming, it has been struck down by a combination of industry, media and political opposition. All this typical political bungling while the people increasingly see the environmental crisis as a national priority! Another Trump down-under, refusing to see the grim reality of the climate change! Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg said recently that talking to Trump at a UN summit on global warming would have been a waste of time since he would not have paid any attention. She said that Trump’s climate change denial is “so extreme” it is in fact helping to galvanise the environmental movement.

To Sri Lanka too, the gravity of this climate change problem of gigantic proportions is yet to sound alarm bells to those at the highest echelons of power. Climate change is a threat to the island’s hyper-diversity, including its marine ecosystem and coastal coral reef environments. Climate variability and sea-level rise has the potential to affect the overall abundance of endemic species. Sri Lanka has topped the ranking of climate change vulnerable countries. Sri Lanka has ranked second because of the series of extreme weather events – like the powerful storms that caused heavy rainfall especially in the Southwest, that resulted in floods and landslides; and on the other hand, the continued drought in the Northern and North central part of the country which occurred throughout four consecutive years.

Dr. Eric Wickramanayake, Chairperson and Director of the Environment Foundation Ltd, opined that many practices in Sri Lanka contribute towards climate change, and the State blithely allows for them to take place. Citing a few examples, he referred to the deforestation in mountain watersheds, converting mangroves to prawn farms, removal and flattening of sand dunes by hotels to enjoy unobstructed views of the ocean, dynamiting coral reefs as unsustainable coral reefs done for short-term profits for the benefit of a few people, but having a huge societal cost.  According to him, the current third Climate Adaptation Plan 2016-2025 prepared by the Climate Change Secretariat of the of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, recognizes the importance of biodiversity and ecosystems and their roles in climate adaptation; however, like all plans with good intentions, this plan also seems to have been shelved.  He reminded the obligations made by the Government to the Conference of Parties at the UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris 2015 to increase forest cover to 30% and also the obligation to restore 200,000 hectares of forests as forested landscape towards the Bonn Challenge.

Thus, in terms of the climate, we are on a dangerous trend line, where the overall temperature can increase throughout the island.  Political expediencies tend to ignore the realities of this grim climate changes which are adversely affecting our lifestyles. Sri Lanka needs to be ready as a resilient nation, by improving its resilience through targeted programs, identifying future challenges such as agriculture, heat stress, indirect health impacts, and biodiversity loss. Will Australian Bushfires be an eye opener to Sri Lanka as well, as studies highlight its’ increased risk to changing weather patterns that are driving extensive changes in both living standards and livelihoods?

Parable of the Fire-hawks! 

From among the ashes of this bushfire, arises another scare story, which throws apt lessons from nature to adjust our lifestyles. Birds and fire have long been linked in the Australian Aboriginal landscape. As it turns out, some Australian birds of prey actively spread bushfires to smoke out their victims and barbecue their food. Birds who arm themselves with fire. there are three “fire-foraging raptors” who demonstrate this diabolical arsonist behaviour, being the black kite, the whistling kite and the brown falcon- the “Firehawks”. Reports indicate this kind of thing has been going on in the NT, Queensland and WA for hundreds of years. Observers report both solo and cooperative attempts, often successful, to spread wildfires intentionally via single-occasion or repeated transport of burning sticks in talons or beaks. After successfully spreading the fire, the “firehawks” are able to pick out fleeing prey or mung on the charred remains of those critters who didn’t make it out in time. This become an acute problem for those who are trying to put out bush fires. Perhaps, there is a great deal for us all to learn from the odd behaviours of these Fire-hawks. – This is a Parable of the Fire hawks! spreading further misery when a miserable situation is already underway!

This parable of the Fire hawks can be aptly applied to Post- war Sri Lankan scenario too. There were those human hawks who carried hate and racism in their beaks and spread fire of divisions among people when such bush fires of bigotry have been then already wreaking havoc within our society. Birds are used as metaphors in literature. American writer and poet Maya Angelou chose the title I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for her biography which explores subjects such as racism, characterizing a racist world divided between Black and white, male and female. She uses the metaphor of a bird struggling to escape its cage; with the caged bird representing Angelou’s confinement resulting from racism and oppression. Bigotry and racism therefore encages people affected and stifles them from being feeling equal partners in a society. 

Likewise, racist fire-hawks also deeply damage the social fabric. In Post- War Sri Lanka, many racist fire-hawk groups thrived at a critical time in history when a well-orchestrated bushfires of anti- Muslim hate were consciously lit and spread with ‘higher’ approval, for political expediency. Just like the Australian birds undertook both solo and cooperative attempts, to successfully spread wildfires intentionally via single-occasion or repeated transport of burning sticks in talons or beaks! Scapegoating Muslims and attacking them by Buddhist extremists then become a new phenomenon and the frequency of this rose ever since the end of the war in 2009; polarizing and fragmenting the society to enable political powers to manipulate outcomes of elections on racial basis instead of pragmatic socio economic policies and programmes to rebuild the nation. This pernicious political culture consciously developed in the name of pseudo nationalism/patriotism has already made Sri Lanka a divisive nation, with the toxic majoritarian attitudes at the top levels making those numerically smaller communities to feel inferior and unequal citizens. The political fire-hawks have been insulting minorities by various epithets such as ‘ we can allow the birds to fly over our heads, but will not allow them to build nests on our heads’; minorities are parasites; they are subsidiary crops while we are the coconut estate’ etc etc. 

In fact, Sri Lankan politics since Independence in 1948 had seen Sinhala Buddhist majority political parties inventing ‘new enemies’ from time to time as a strategy of creating fear psychosis amongst the Sinhalese voters as a ruse to make them to align with chauvinist politicians to propel to power. To cover up the inefficiencies of the political leadership, those who calls the shots  from time to time manipulated one against the other in order to entrench their particular class in power whilst the average citizens’ life is rendered miserable. The innumerable damage these attitudes have done to Sri Lanka and its international image is really alarming. Today, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa highlighting at every turn that he was elected through the votes of the majority community and using majoritarian and anti-Minority language to target the next parliamentary elections to secure a 2/3rd majority, there is  every reason that tougher times are ahead for the minorities in Sri Lanka. What is more alarming is that the same hate groups which were the fire hawks in the Post war period, are once again raising their game to drive fear and insecurity into Muslim and Tamil psyche, in the guise of  being partners to GR’s victory. The toxic words spoken by many well- known fire-hawkish hate monks and governing party politicians are dangerously inflammatory. 

If GR says that he wish to give the most prominent place to Buddhism as per the constitution, it should not be the brand of Sinhala Buddhism- which Social Analyst Jayadeva Uyangoda and other Sinhalese authors have stated clearly in not conducive to build an inclusive Sri Lanka. It will only allow Buddhism to succumb to apartheid by becoming a strictly race based religion in Sri Lanka like Zionism, and the chauvinistic Sinhalese Buddhists will be solely responsible for eliminating all Buddhist virtues from this country, which the so-called Sinhala leaders are paying lip service too. It is sad that touching the susceptibilities and sensitivities of people to create religious disharmony and hype the racial and religious divide to cover under the carpet their political mismanagement, corruption, cronyism and broken promises, has become emperor’s clothes to an emotionally charged electorate blinded by a well-orchestrated campaign to promote a false sense of supremacy among them. Unless these fire hawks are duly identified and called out for what they are, Sri Lanka will just continue to slide along the path of no-return and will become another pariah state in the style of Modi’s India. The rise of many forms of extremism in the country- Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, have sadly led one to another and have moved the country towards violent extremism and appears to have escalated to terrorism. Recent example being the Easter Sunday attacks, which has led to a growing trend of Islamophobia.

Lessons from the Aussie bushfires should certainly wake us up from our slumber to act upon climate changes without putting this crucial issue in the back burner. Further, the parable of the fire-hawks which came out of that misery, should also make us look inwards too and encourage all of us irrespective of our nationalities, take an anti-racism and beat them decisively, as it is all about protecting future generations too. These hate Fire-hawks are a menace to the human kind and will only serve those political opportunists who will feed on human misery. The safety and security of the one community always lies in the safety and the security of the others mutually.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 5
    2

    Sri Lanka has much worse threat of Islamic terrorism on home soil. The threat of bush fires in Sri Lanka does not rate high enough to worry about, our forests are rain forests.
    /
    It is much more important to clean up terrorism, its local political support base and funding from the middle east.

    • 1
      1

      This article has nothing to do with what you talk about!
      .
      The moment you guys see a Muslim name, your Islamaphobia takes over.
      .
      How can civilised life possibly exist in this island with reasoning such as yours?

    • 1
      0

      Dont tell lies, thinking all is stupdier as Rajakshes have been. I dont think that a big threat is there from the muslims living in SL. I have no doubt, the president, as the minister of defence, just ignored by having spoken with deal Mahinda Jarapakashe and left for Singapore on the day – easter bombers got ready to do the job. Else, who on earth would ever allow own people be killed in to purpose. But I can trust SIRISENA for any high crimes, considering his unethical behaviours in the 52 day fake govt.

      That was beyond all ethics and morals. I dont wish any enemies be curseful, but SIRISENA yes. He should be rotten in hell, for all what he has done, neglecting the most essential thing.
      If not for getting the robbers by their horns, why at all the bugger broke away from Rajapkashe politics in 2014 ?
      Sillysena is no means consistent and healthy person. Alone then PM and other minsiters not being able to take part in NATIONAL SECURITY meetings … prove us everything.
      Not Makandure Madhush, but SILLIYSENA should be hung by this balls serving the justice to all the dead and injured int hat tragody.

    • 1
      0

      Guys, get civilized. Threats can come in any form, and when Australia struggles for months, it has to be a serious threat & a message too. What is burning in Australia is world-heritage rain forests, but an empty bigoted vessel like you are making the irrelevant noise here & give importance to the messenger rather than the message itself.

      Bush fires are natural disaster and terrorism is not. But they both are destructive, and pull a country backward. Natural disasters can be more dangerous and destructive and more importantly, you can’t put the blame on one particular community and burn a village for it to gain political or monetary benefits out of it.

  • 2
    0

    I now being an Australian and a New Zealand citizen am saddened and shocked beyond belief than such mayhem is being caused by nature & a few criminal mentally deranged two-legged maniac human beasts who for sadistic reasons best known to them have been sadly responsible for the destruction of properties the deaths of a few humans, more than 500,000 poor animals who unlike the Aussie’s own kangaroo who on sensing danger are able to skip away from danger.
    RJ@1. both of these countries have been kind to myself & my daughter along with with the millions of migrants both legal and those who have illegally has been given a new lease whereby most of them over the years have been able to build up their asset portfolio educate their offspring free of charge along with excellent medical facilities which I have benefitted personally.
    RJ@2. having had to become an above knee amputee in 2009 I also had to have the toes on the left leg chopped off in 3 hits.
    then during the first week of October 2019 my daughter and I had to attend the homecoming of the only son of a long-standing buddy of ours, luckily after tons of manmade stresses were able to make my presence felt at the said function.
    RJ@3. on Saturday the 5th of October after a pleasant how water shower at the hotel, I lay down on the bed to rest my tired exhausted weary limbs awaiting the arrival of friends who wanted to host us for lunch.
    RJ@4. I began to have breathing issues, afraid an ambulance had been hastily summoned the paramedics who came to my plea for help were able to restore my breathing did an ECG and stated that I have not had a heart attack insisted that I with them in their vehicle go right away to the closest hospital which was only a few hoots away.

  • 5
    11

    I thought Mr Harees’s clan member is responsible for deforestation of the Wilpattu National Park.
    My be Mr Bathideen was doing some Back Burning to prevent any Bush Fires in the East.

    • 9
      3

      Racist, Sumanasekera!
      .
      So predictable!

  • 7
    1

    Dear Mohamed Lukman Harees,
    .
    The first of your articles that I read was about the Tsunami warnings that we ignored, and I found it most interesting. So, it is with this article, which like the earlier falls into two parts.
    .
    A very interesting phenomenon that – “firehawks“. However, Wikipedia gave only a passing reference, and even an article like this,
    .
    https://blog.nature.org/science/2018/01/12/australian-firehawk-raptors-intentionally-spread-wildfires/
    .
    doesn’t really claim that there is conclusive evidence. It’s still at the level of recording Aboriginal folklore, and it looks doubtful that these birds possess the diabolical intelligence to start the fires to get themselves food – the way we, humans, do, to selfishly get ourselves food while neglecting the wastage it involves, and “collateral damage”. Solution: “kill all fire-hawks.” But not so fast. Time and again it’s been proved that such human interventions have unforeseeable side effects.
    .
    However, both the Aboriginals and the Veddas know the jungle much better than we do. We are most concerned with “safely” exploiting nature. Not possible: Nature will hit back at us. Limit human population is the one panacea that I can think of.

    .
    When you apply that phenomenon to the social observation that there are human fire-hawks that spread communal tensions, I think that we are definitely on to something more tangible.
    .
    Thanks also for writing it up so well, and courageously. A disturbing read, but well presented.
    .

  • 3
    12

    “.has already made Sri Lanka a divisive nation, “
    Mr Harees,when did you last visit or drive through Kattankudy?

    Soma

  • 7
    0

    Terrible Bush fire indeed.
    As usual. Political bungling has led to apathy on climate change issues. Sri Lanka too is taking a lame duck approach in this regard. Shame

  • 6
    2

    It is indeed with 48-50 degrees temperatures in many parts of Sydney and even most of Australia. Even Melbourne had a temperature of 42 degrees unheard of a few days ago. Now it is 16 degrees outside and cold inside the house that had to on the central heating in the middle of summer , whereas a few days ago it was the air conditioner or evaporative air cooler on the whole day to cool the house and offices. However there is a horrible smoke haze hanging around Sydney Melbourne Canberra and many other cities from these huge bush fires and we cannot go out , as we may fall sick. and have been advised not to go out unless you have too. Especially people with heart , respiratory problems or the old or very young. Bush fires occur every summer but these occur later in summer and have not been this ferocious. Now they starting at the very beginning of the Australian summer and are far more ferocious and lasting longer. The effect is now being felt even in New Zealand and now a massive Australian bush fire smoke is moving to Chile South America. In Canberra many offices including Federal government have been forced to close because of the smoke . In Melbourne I felt sick working in my office as I could smell the smoke even inside my office, that is well insulated. This is all because of climate change.

    https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/gabrielsanchez/photos-deadly-bushfires-australia

    • 0
      1

      “Even Melbourne had a temperature of 42 degrees unheard of a few days ago.”
      Many of the hottest days recorded in Melbourne occurred during major heatwaves which precipitated large firestorms:
      47.2 °C (117.0 °F) (Anecdotal) – 6 February 1851 (Black Thursday)[40]
      46.4 °C (115.5 °F) – 7 February 2009 (Black Saturday)
      45.6 °C (114.1 °F) – 13 January 1939 (Black Friday)
      (Source Wikipedia)
      But RSS does his ‘research’ before uttering his gems.

      • 1
        0

        So what you just want to nit pick on what I state . As you are petty minded racist Tamil hating low life. Yes these statistics can be true and all these temperature whether they occurred 170 years ago or 80 years ago or even 10 years ago are an aberration and unheard of . Even the 42 degrees in Melbourne proper not in the outlying bush areas of Melbourne. I was in Melbourne in 2009 when the 070209 occurred, so you don’t have to lecture or advise me ,as I witnessed this first hand, the areas that burned are quite close to where I live , some just 20 KM. Stop being silly and petty.

        • 1
          0

          Dear Siva Sankaran Sharma,
          .
          Please pipe down. I know it’s hot but “don’t lose your cool”.
          .
          Prof, Sivasekaram is now an old man. He still surprises me often with the acuity of some of his observations, but I agree that that was silly “nit picking”.

  • 2
    0

    Lukman,
    The sentiment expressed in this column is valid. The phenomenon of “climate change” is usually viewed as a negative outcome of unplanned human invasion of the natural environment. This is only partially true b’cos changes in physical environment is an essential part of the nature; the reason for worry is that in the past, humans failed to recognize it b’cos of the imperceptible rate. It is true that the need to exploit natural resources for the increased human population has increased the rate of change but most environmentalists forget the fact that the earth is passing through inter-glacial period of warming trend. Also, the Theory of Plate Tectonics guarantees that the movement of continents & oceans as well as formation new mountain ranges contribute to the climate change.

    Apart from slow gradual changes, earth also has experienced several catastrophic sudden events of changes from extra-terrestrial impact events. End-Mesozoic extinction event that wiped out dinosaurs thereby paving the way for mammalian dominance is one such well established event. Had not for that impact event, human evolution may even not have occurred. Bush fires are part of the same natural process. As a matter of fact, in subtropics, trees are evolved to embrace intermittent fire. What is happening in Australia is such an event. Their frequency may have increased due to human activities; nonetheless, they are natural occurrences. Usually, forests recover themselves in 10-15 years.

    This is what has happened in Wilpattu as well: forest has taken over an abandoned human settlement. Almost all ancient ruins within the dry-zone forest display the same same phenomena.

  • 0
    3

    The hundreds of bush fires raging across the entire Australian continent are a punishment meted out by God because of that government’s hard, harsh and heartless treatment of would-be immigrants and other refugees fleeing persecution. Australia goes to extreme lengths to keep out what it refers to as aliens, such as by employing unwarranted force and by not allowing anyone to even step foot on the mainland. All intercepted boat people are kept in an offshore island under atrocious conditions and then sent back to their original destinations where they are likely to be persecuted further.

    Australia gives the topmost priority to “securing its borders” and fulfills this task with fanatical zeal. Just imagine what would have been the fate of those descendants of convicts it the original aboriginal inhabitants of that country had enforced a policy of “securing their borders” against the rapacious, imperialist colonialists?

    • 2
      0

      Stanley
      Is Your God so Blind and Vindictive that He/She does not differentiate between the Government of Australia and the Good People and their Properties which are being Destroyed?

  • 1
    3

    Lukman,
    Please look here man,
    The Buddhists Sinhalese or the Sinhalese Buddhists will continue to take care of the nation and country as they had been doing for the last 2600 years! Many non-Sinhalese or non-Buddhists will help them in this arduous process!
    Instead of preaching to them you guys have to rethink about your plans to be exclusive or inclusive. Don’t look at others for solutions; look at yourself, the solution is right there within yourself!
    One of your men (Ali Sabri) said this in clear terms prior to the presidential election, but you attacked him and branded him as a Gota’s man.
    What’s the use of filling up pages after pages on this website with your non-nonsensical and hypocritical so-called advice? Fire-hawks are with you and within you! Don’t point the finger at others!

  • 1
    1

    I used to live in Adelaide in the late 90s and now Live in California. From the time I can remember during the fall season in each of these places there have been fires. I am no expert in this but this is common and I am not sure it is or is not related to so-called Climate change.

    As one of the commentators posted it is a necessary part of the climate cycle as some of these trees need the fire to crack their hard seeds to germinate.

    I think this hysteria that people have is damaging true climate science as now it has just become a political slogan

  • 1
    1

    Just think of this; the indigenous people of Australia have been managing bush fires for 60,000 years. They employed methods that prevented such fires from spreading by back burning and managing the bush. The current problem, apart from scorching temperatures is partly due to Green Parties having introduced legislation that prevents back burning, bush clearing and livestock grazing. At the moment the emphasis is on climate change and Australia’s reluctance to take action, which is partly correct. However, over the past 15 years or so the Greens have been introducing unrealistic targets that has hindered traditional fire management methods.

  • 0
    5

    “It will only allow Buddhism to succumb to apartheid by becoming a strictly race based religion in Sri Lanka like Zionism, and the chauvinistic Sinhalese Buddhists will be solely responsible for eliminating all Buddhist virtues from this country….”

    What rubbish. Has the government used the military to destroy a single mosque, church, or kovil? In the past, kings built tombs for the invaders, like Eelara. Only when the invaders started wearing belt bombs did we have to dump them in the sea (Nanthikadal). What about the total destruction of cultural icons by Islamic invaders in South Asia? Because of the destruction of Nalanda University, Buddhism vanished from India. But these idiots (Taliban) took 25 days to destroy Bamiyan Buddas. They could not destroy it with tanks, so they had to bring new people and spend 3 days laying explosives.

  • 3
    0

    We take the positive side of this article penned by Mr.Hareez as prevention is better than cure. Government should announce that if any one is caught involving in any form of arson will be severely dealt with. All forest areas should be guarded by army to protect valuable wild life. We all should know that destructing environment and fanning the fire of racial sentiments would certainly ruin human existence. Therefore government should take necessary steps maintain law and order to all it’s citizens regardless their ethnicity.

  • 0
    1

    White Australians, especially Anglo-Saxon stock, are receiving the deeds of Karma for what they had done to the Aborgines of the Land.

    Yes, the Anglo-Saxons burnt bush for depriving Aborgines food resorces.
    The genocide and cleasing of Aborgines was done at the highest level of authority and governmnet.

    Below is slight glimmer of history of genocide and cleasing of Aborgines in the view of Anglo-Saxon.

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/mar/04/the-killing-times-the-massacres-of-aboriginal-people-australia-must-confront

    Now, the genocide and cleasing of Aborgines is executed through justice system.

    https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/crisis-aboriginal-women-prison-australia-191105183142685.html

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.