As Australia heads towards the start of warmer weather and into another summer season in a few months time, we begin to brace ourselves for the seemingly inevitable “bushfire” season. In fact, in parts around the country we have already seen bushfires blazing out of control, threatening communities with Mother Nature’s wrath.
I am reminded of one of Australia’s worst fires in recent years known as “Black Saturday” in 2009. With a combination of some of the worst weather conditions ever recorded for bushfire season, approximately 400 fires started on Saturday 7th February 2009. Over 1 million acres were burnt and the toll on human lives and communities was devastating. 173 people were killed by the Black Saturday fires, another 414 people were injured and over 2,100 homes were destroyed. A total of 7,562 people were displaced with entire communities having to be rebuilt.
In typical Aussie fashion, people stepped up. Volunteers appeared from all parts of the country ready to donate their time, energy, expertise, compassion and materials. It took considerable time, but with the dedication of many, communities and lives began to be rebuilt. The physical and psychological scars will remain with many from the events of Black Saturday, but when the crisis erupted, Australia essentially stopped in its’ tracks and did whatever was needed to help. And I’m sure the response would be similar in many other parts of the world when Mother Nature unleashes her force on humanity.
So, I now question why we seem to not be compelled to respond with as much determination or sense of urgency to the Syrian refugee crisis?
The number of people needing assistance inside Syria is estimated to be 12.2 million. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Darwin needing assistance. The number of refugees who have fled Syria is estimated at 4.08 million, and literally rising by the day. That almost the same as Melbourne’s entire population. The Za’atari camp is now Jordan’s fourth largest city and “home” to over 80,000 refugees currently. That is over half of Darwin’s population. More than 200,000 people have been killed in the Syrian crisis in four and a half years. That’s the almost the same as all of Hobart.
The numbers of people directly affected are enormous. The destruction and humanitarian cost is the worst since World War II. Yet, why don’t we respond to this crisis in direct proportion to its scale when you consider our ability to respond to the devastation caused by disasters such as Black Saturday? Black Saturday was a day that scarred many Australians, figuratively and literally. However, when you consider that the number of Syrian who are displaced from their country and now living as refugees is 539 times larger than those displaced by Black Saturday, why is taking us as a global society so long to respond appropriately to their plight?
Is it because mankind has created this destruction? Or is it perhaps because we cannot imagine this being our own reality as it is so far removed from what many Australians know? Most Australians who have lived through one summer here know all too well the threat of Mother Nature during bushfire season, and when She strikes, we move in and do our best to protect one another.
Perhaps its time that we absorb the full intensity of the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis in order to better understand the humanitarian void that is desperately waiting to be filled. And it us as a global society who are going to have to fill it.