While late 2019 and the year 2020 will probably be remembered for the covid-19 pandemic, the world should not forget about another disaster: The bushfires in Australia, that this year were unusually intense and out of control. What let them be so terribly out of control in the first place?
Cultural burning is far more than a new method in the spectrum of hazard reduction burning; it is a recognized official Australian wildfire prevention technique. Cultural burning sets focus on re-establishing the kinship between the species in a certain ecosystem; it pays full attention to fire relationships of the area.
The tropical savannas of northern Australia are among the most fire-prone regions in the world. On average, they account for 70% of the area affected by fire each year in Australia.
But effective fire management over the past 20 years has reduced the annual average area burned – an area larger than Tasmania. The extent of this achievement is staggering, almost incomprehensible in a southern Australia context after the summer’s devastating bushfires.
It is the collective experiences, voices and defined action of people from impacted communities that will help shape the vision for long-lasting, impactful, transformative change. For frontline farming communities, the solution starts with building thriving local economies which provide farmers with dignified livelihoods that are ecologically diverse, healthy and resilient.
Fire is an intrinsic part of the Australian landscape. It has become more destructive since European colonisation, and over recent decades, we have experienced even greater destruction due to accelerating climate change and changes in land use. Australia could, and should, be leading the world in transitioning to a renewable energy base to reduce the root cause of the crisis.
The agency in charge of leading the recovery in bushfire-affected areas must begin respectfully and appropriately. And they must be equipped with the basic knowledge of our peoples’ different circumstances.
It’s important to note this isn’t “special treatment.” Instead, it recognizes that policy and practice must be fit-for-purpose and, at the very least, not do further harm.