Australia: the smoke from fires cause hundreds of deaths

Australie: la fumée des incendies à l'origine de centaines de décès

SYDNEY | The smoke from the recent fires that have devastated Australia is the cause of death of 445 people and more than 4,000 hospitalizations, according to an expert heard on Tuesday in the framework of the investigation opened by the government on this disaster.

More than 30 people have perished in the flames, and thousands of homes have been destroyed in these devastating fires that had started in September and ended in February.

According to a specialist environmental health, heard Tuesday by the commission of inquiry royal authority better prepare Australia to deal with natural disasters, if one takes into account the consequences of the smoke generated by these fires, the human toll is much higher.

Fay Johnston, associate professor at the Institute Menzies for medical research of the University of Tasmania, explained that its modelling shows that 445 deaths are due to fires, as well as 3 340 hospitalizations and 1 373 passages to the emergency room.

“We believe that the health costs related to premature deaths and hospital admissions amounted to 2 billion australian dollars (1.85 billion $)”, she said.

According to Ms. Johnston, this amount is “nearly ten times higher” than in previous years.

It does not however take into account the cost due to them from the ambulance, loss of productivity, or of some diseases, the consequences of which are difficult to model, such as diabetes.

“Of course, this fluctuates each year, but there is a exceptional change compared to what we had experienced during the previous twenty years”, she added.

This professor has estimated that 80 % of Australians — about 20 million people — have been affected by the smoke from these huge fires that have destroyed over 10 million hectares of land.

The city of Sydney has been wrapped for several weeks by a thick fog toxic, while large homes were burning around the city the most populated in the country.

The capital, Canberra, has also been diving in a thick cloud of smoke.

Firefighting in Australia has already been the subject of multiple investigations, with mixed results. Some of the measures advocated in the 1930s still did not have, for example, been implemented.

The survey currently being conducted will have to make its findings by August 31, or before the next fire season begins.

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