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What will be the long-term impact of the bushfire crisis?

What will be the long-term impact of the bushfire crisis?

Australia is facing an unprecedented and horrific bushfire season that will have enormous consequences to the economy, health, the environment, and even politics.

What will be the long-term impact of the bushfire crisis?

We break down what’s to come for the country as the crisis continues to unfold.

Economic

The economic cost of the bushfire season is already estimated to have hit $2 billion and will continue to climb.

There are fears Australians will spend even less amid the fires, causing economists to tip another interest rate cut from the Reserve Bank next month. It’s believed the smoke haze over major cities has reduced economic output through lost productivity, spending and ill health.

With the blazes receiving large amounts of international news coverage, the Australian Tourism Industry Council has warned images of the fires could deter visitors to Australia, which has the potential to cost the tourism industry hundreds of millions of dollars. Key tourism areas including Victoria’s East Gippsland and the NSW south coast have already been devastated.

Tourism Australia has paused its latest advertising campaign featuring Kylie Minogue after critics suggested it was at odds with the bushfire crisis. Meanwhile, there have been suggestions the Australian Open, a huge drawcard in Australian tourism, may not start on time on January 20 due to smoke haze.

With more than 1600 homes having already been destroyed nationwide, insurable losses continue to rise. More than 8500 insurance claims totalling $700 million have already been made in relation to the fires.

Agriculture has been hit hard, with the National Farmers’ Federation estimating that more than 100,000 livestock have been killed in the fires.

However, it’s believed insurance payouts and government assistance will contribute towards GDP and likely create employment as new homes and infrastructure are built. Reconstructing infrastructure such as bridges and roads is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The healthcare sector might also see expansion as people seek treatment for injuries and mental health.

Health

Health experts say it will be years before we know if there are any potential long-term impacts from the toxic smoke being breathed in by Australians around the country.

Due to there being no precedent for such prolonged and extreme fires, it’s impossible to know at this stage whether there will be lasting effects from being exposed to the smoke over weeks or months.

However, studies of highly polluted cities have shown residents have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, and there is increasing evidence for air pollution contributing to neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Meanwhile, with at least 24 people killed, millions of animals dead, and more than 1600 homes destroyed, the mental and emotional impact on affected communities will be immeasurable.

Environmental

Almost half a billion animals have died in the blazes. Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley estimates that up to 30 per cent of koalas in NSW may have perished. Those that haven’t died in the fires will still be in danger due to the destruction of their food and shelter.

More than 5 million hectares in Australia have been burnt, including an estimated 30 per cent of forest in NSW.

Experts say climate change has undoubtedly caused an ongoing decline in rainfall leading to drought, as well as more frequent and severe heatwave conditions in the country. With drought drying out the land, the resulting dried vegetation is far easier to ignite.

Last year was the hottest and driest year on record for Australia. The country also had its driest spring on record followed by its hottest day on record in December.

Political

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been forced to defend his government’s climate policies amid the crisis. While Morrison has conceded climate change could be impacting the fire season, he has argued there is no link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the bushfire crisis. Protesters have rallied outside the prime minister’s office demanding greater action on climate change.

His reluctance to acknowledge a link between Australia’s climate change action and the fires is not the only thing to have hurt him politically. The prime minister was widely criticised for taking a holiday to Hawaii amid the unfolding crisis.

He was then met with angry residents while visiting the bushfire-ravaged town of Cobargo, with people refusing to shake his hand and calling him names.

Morrison has since had to defend a video posted to social media outlining details of the government’s bushfire response, and has even faced criticism for not alerting fire authorities before announcing the deployment of army reservists to help combat the crisis.

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