His Holiness the Dalai Lama last week voiced dismay over the devastation and loss of life experienced in Australia in recent months as firefighters and emergency workers have fought tirelessly against a series of massive bushfires that have raged across the country since last year.
“It is simply heart-wrenching to see reports of these ferocious infernos, while the personal bravery of so many volunteers who have come together as firefighters is an inspiration,” the Tibetan spiritual leader wrote in a letter to Australian prime minister Scott Morrison. “I offer my condolences to the families of those who have died and to the many people who have lost their homes in these fires.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Although Australia has always had bushfires, the 2019–20 bushfire season has resulted in a series of unusually intense wildfires that are still burning across the country, touching all six states, with the worst devastation seen in southeast Australia. An estimated 107,000 square kilometers of land has been razed by the fires—more than the entire land area of South Korea. As of 13 January, 28 people have been reported killed since October 2019 in bushfire-related incidents, with some 5,900 buildings destroyed, including more than 2,200 homes. An estimated one billion animals have also perished, and scientists fear that and some endangered species may be driven to extinction.
“It is . . . becoming increasingly clear that a great number of birds and animals have died in the fires—this is also very distressing,” said His Holiness. “I would like to commend your government and the respective state governments for the measures they have taken to provide victims with necessary support and assistance.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
In an effort to distribute food to fire-affected wildlife, thousands of kilograms of vegetables have been airdropped over remote corners of New South Wales in a mission dubbed Operation Rock Wallaby. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables have been dropped from helicopters to population centers of brush-tailed rock wallabies and other wildlife in a bid to sustain them during the emergency. The Australian government committed A$50 million (US$34.6 million) to a wildlife recovery fund, describing the bushfire crisis as “an ecological disaster” that threatens the survival of several species, including rock wallabies and koalas. Images and footage of burned kangaroos, koalas, and possums, and people risking their lives to save local wildlife, have gone viral on social media.
“I am heartened by the generous solidarity being shown by the global community for those who have been affected. Disasters like this remind us that humanity is one community,” observed His Holiness, a vocal advocate for environmental sustainability. “Even on an individual level, each and every one of us must take steps to counter global warming.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
“As you may know,” the Dalai Lama’s letter concluded, “I have been able to visit Australia quite regularly over the years and have been deeply touched by the friendship and affection Australians have shown me, as well as the interest they have taken in my efforts to promote human values and peace of mind.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Although heavy rains have been forecast for this week—with rainfall expected over parts of the central and northern coasts, and thunderstorms and showers forecast for most of New South Wales, expert say they are unlikely to significantly reduce the ongoing wildfire threat. A New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) representative was quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying that the rainfall was unlikely to be heavy enough to put out fires across the state. The RFS said that more than 100 fires are still burning in New South Wales, with 36 fires burning out of control.
In a separate statement at the Kalachakra teaching ground in Bodh Gaya, India, on 6 January, the octogenarian Nobel Peace Prize laureate emphasized the growing dangers facing the world as a result of accelerating global climate change: “These days, due to global warming, places in South America like Brazil saw massive wild fires recently. Even right now, in Australia millions of animals like kangaroo and other beautiful indigenous animals are burned by the wildfires.” (Phayul.com)
The Dalai Lama was in Bodh Gaya to give a series of teachings over several days, attended by more than 35,000 monks, nuns, and laypeople from the Himalayan region and around the world.
“The world is undergoing a massive increase in global temperature which can be traced to various manmade factors,” he said. “In some places in Africa there are massive floods caused by incessant rain, whereas in Australia wild fires are wreaking havoc. People can do very little to mitigate the immediate dangers of the incidents but by addressing climate change factors, these challenges can be dealt with over time.” (Phayul.com)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama Expresses Sadness Over the Bushfires and Loss of Life in Australia (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Australian wild-fires caused by man-made global warming, says Dalai Lama (Phayul.com)
Koalas, wallabies endangered by Australia bushfires ‘ecological disaster’ (Reuters)
Australia fires: heavy rain and cooler temperatures ‘unlikely’ to end bushfire threat (The Guardian)