Australia urged to avoid Great Barrier Reef’s possible ‘in danger’ status

Robie de Guzman   •   November 29, 2019   •   192

(FILE) Tropical fish swim along the edges of a coral reef off Great Keppel Island, Queensland, Australia, 25 November 2016. EPA/DAN PELED AUSTRALIA

Sydney, Australia – Environmental organizations on Friday urged the Australian government to prevent the United Nations cultural agency from including the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system, on the World Heritage endangered list.

“Australia has a unique opportunity to show global leadership on reef protection,” Richard Lecks, World Wildlife Fund-Australia’s head of Oceans and Sustainable Development, said in a statement.

The appeal came two days before the deadline for the Australian government to submit a progress report of the plan it created in 2015 to protect the reef after United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considered listing the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger.”

Next year, UNESCO’s world heritage committee will review the Great Barrier Reef, which has undergone two mass bleaching episodes of its corals in 2016 and 2017 due to warmer water temperatures, among other factors.

In August, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority downgraded its outlook for the corals’ health from “poor” to “very poor” and said the target set by the government’s Reef 2050 plan to improve water quality had not been achieved.

“The Australian government’s own experts have identified climate change as the leading threat to the Reef,” said Imogen Zethoven, the director of strategy of the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The activists urged the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is an advocate for the coal industry, one of the main drivers of the country’s economy, to adopt several measures, including reducing emissions and pursuing a transition to renewable energy.

The 2,300-kilometer-long (1,430 miles) Great Barrier Reef, home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 varieties of mollusks, began to deteriorate in the 1990s due to the double impact of water warming and increased acidity caused by more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. EFE-EPA

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Australia bushfires cover Sydney with dense blanket of smoke

Jeck Deocampo   •   December 6, 2019

New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Fire and Rescue NSW crews work to protect a property in Kulnura as the Three Mile fire approaches Mangrove Mountain, Australia, 6 December 2019. EFE-EPA/DAN HIMBRECHTS

SYDNEY, Australia – More than 100 fires are raging along Australia’s east coast, several of them on the outskirts of Sydney, which on Friday was covered in a thick layer of smoke that led to the cancellation of several sporting events planned over the weekend.

Many of the inhabitants of the Australian metropolis, the most populous city in the country, came out of their homes wearing masks to protect themselves from the pollution.

Users shared hundreds of photos showing different parts of the city with a sky tinged with intense orange smoke under #sydneysmoke.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull posted a photo on Instagram taken from an airplane showing Sydney covered with a haze of smoke and blamed the climate crisis for the ferocity of the fires raging in the country since early November.

“The reality of climate change – hotter and drier means more fires. We have to accelerate the move to zero-emission energy. It will mean a safer planet for our children and more affordable energy,” he said.

In the state of New South Wales, 46 fires are out of control, including six under the “watch and act” alert, which is issued when public safety is at risk, the state’s Rural Fire Service said.

RFS said at least 684 homes have been destroyed by fires that are spreading throughout the state and approaching large urban areas, including west Sydney.

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned in a press conference of the harsh conditions firefighters will face during the fire season, which is not expected to end until March.

“Between now and February we can expect below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures for this time of year, which, unfortunately, just signals increased fire danger, increased fire activity, particularly across a terribly drought-stricken landscape,” he added.

Further north, dozen of hotspots affect the neighboring Queensland, where firefighters have ordered evacuations in several locations.

The fire season in Australia varies by area and weather conditions, although the blazes are generally recorded in the austral summer (between the months of December to March).

In recent years, bushfires in Australia – a country that is this year battling a severe drought – have increased in intensity, with many experts linking it to the effects of climate change.

The worst fires in the Oceanic country in recent decades occurred in early February 2009 in the state of Victoria, leaving 173 people dead and 414 injured, as well burning an area of 4,500 sq km (1,737 sq miles). EFE-EPA

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Volunteer firefighter accused of starting several fires in Australia

Robie de Guzman   •   November 27, 2019

Sydney, Australia – A 19-year-old volunteer firefighter appeared before a court in Australia on Wednesday accused of lighting and contributing to the spread of several of the fires ravaging the eastern coast of the Oceanic country – which is suffering from one of the worst wildfire seasons in decades – instead of extinguishing them.

The police in the state of New South Wales accused Blake William Banner of starting seven bushfires in the Bega Valley, 421 kilometers (around 262 miles) south of Sydney.

The police said in a statement that the young man, who appeared before a court in Bega, was seen on Tuesday inside a van near the Bega river. The area was ablaze soon after his sighting.

The state fire department’s commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said that the suspect had been suspended, and termed his alleged acts of arson as “the ultimate betrayal of our own members, and of the broader community.”

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen firefighters going above and beyond in difficult and dangerous conditions,” said Fitzsimmons, adding that their members would be “rightly angry that the alleged actions of one individual can tarnish the reputation and hard work of so many.”

New South Wales, with some 130 active blazes, has been the state worst hit by the wave of bushfires devastating Australia’s east coast, a situation aggravated by one of the worst droughts in decades.

Since July 1, fires in this state have killed six people and charred some 1.3 million hectares of land, besides causing the deaths of more than 1,000 koalas and thousands of farm animals.

The fire season in Australia varies by area and weather conditions, although the blazes are generally recorded in the austral summer (between the months of December to March). EFE-EPA

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Women win landmark class action against Johnson & Johnson in Australia

Robie de Guzman   •   November 21, 2019

Sydney, Australia – More than 1,350 women who have suffered debilitating side effects of pelvic mesh implants won a landmark class action suit against multinational giant Johnson & Johnson on Thursday in Sydney, Australia.

The case, which began in 2012, has been described by the prosecution as the biggest class action concerning women’s health in Australia’s history.

The Federal Court of Australia held the behavior of the American multinational and its subsidiary Ethicon as “negligent” underlining that “the risks were known, not insignificant, and on the respondents’ own admission, could cause significant and serious harm if they eventuated.”

Women have said that the pelvic implants – mesh or tape surgically placed to resolve pelvic floor damage such as that commonly caused during childbirth – have caused debilitating problems such as urinary incontinence, chronic pain, including during sex, infections and a significant psychological toll.

The court heard that three women who brought the class action — Kathryn Gill, Diane Dawson and Ann Sanders — described their symptoms ranging from “pain… so bad she struggles to breathe,” “excruciating pain across her buttocks, pain deep inside her vagina, and pain that radiated down her leg,” and “chronic pain and multiple other symptoms. Her enjoyment of life has been substantially diminished” to “frightened about what the future holds.”

The court judgment said one or more surgical procedures may be required to remove mesh that had eroded, and that “removal carried the risk of new complications or of aggravating existing complications.”

“I found that the respondents were liable to compensate any applicant and/or group member who suffered an injury because of the defect for the amount of the loss and damage she sustained as a result of that injury,” Judge Anna Katzmann said.

She granted the parties time to read the judgment and reach an agreement, and “each of the applicants will need to make an election as to whether she wishes to receive damages under the Trade Practices Act or at common law” before her final decision in February next year.

The compensation is expected to reach millions of dollars given that some 8,000 women are estimated to have been affected, according to Shine Lawyers, a legal firm representing the women in the case.

“It has been a long journey to get here through this legal process. We have fought hard to have these women’s voices heard, as they’ve struggled with the chronic pain and complications from their mesh and tape implants,” Shine Lawyers’ Special Counsel for Class Actions Rebecca Jancauskas said in a statement.

Thousands of women in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom and Canada, among others, have sued Johnson & Johnson over side effects of pelvic implants. EFE-EPA

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