Continued support for Black Summer victims required from Red Cross and other agencies

The Australian Red Cross, which has supported the victims of the bushfires, has just released their two-year report on the fires. Photo: Australian Red Cross.

By TILEAH DOBSON

It’s been two years since the 2019-20 Black Summer ravaged Australia’s east coast and parts of South Australia. An estimated 18.6 million hectares were burnt during the fires, which occurred just before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

While the mega-fire that blanketed Sydney – and much of Eastern Australia – in hazardous smoke week after week is now just a memory, the effects of the bushfires continue. An estimated 2,779 homes were destroyed, 34 people killed and many were left homeless.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated by the public, government bodies, NGOs, international organisations and celebrities to assist with human and wildlife recovery.

The Australian Red Cross has emerged as one of the largest supporters, with its latest report revealing the Red Cross bushfire fund has now distributed $232 million to 6,131 bushfire victims.

This number represents 95 per cent of the overall $242 million raised by the organisation for the cause.

Deemed one of the worst bushfire seasons in Australia’s history, the Black Summer fires devastated the land. Photo: Meganesia/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0.

Red Cross National Recovery Coordinator Shona Whitton has attributed this fantastic result to the incredible generosity of people in Australia and around the world.

“As we’ve learned over successive disasters it was important that we allocated funds for immediate response and for the longer-term recovery, and as expected many people did not come forward for help until well after the fires,” Whitton said.

“We started providing grants within a few days of the fires at New Year’s Eve to meet immediate needs and we continued providing grants to respond to needs as they emerged and also for longer term support and recovery.

“We have continued to offer support as people need it. We have been there when impacted and traumatised people and communities have been ready, be that for help with immediate needs or as people start to rebuild and recover.”

As of 31 December 2021, the Red Cross has helped 49,718 people in evacuation shelters or over the phone, while more than 67,746 people were assisted with recovery through group support, workshops and one-on-one sessions.

It took firefighters, volunteers and international assistance to combat the raging flames. Photo: BLMIdaho/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

‘People don’t seek help immediately’

“Disaster recovery is complex, and there are many reasons why people don’t all seek assistance immediately,” Whitton said. 

“Many people think initially they’ll cope without financial help, some are too traumatised and others believe their neighbours are worse off and more deserving. Over 40 per cent of grant recipients applied after June 2020, at least six months after the fires and 245 people came forward in financial need for the first time more than one year after the fires.”

Of the states affected by the bushfires, New South Wales was hit the hardest, with 26 fatalities and 2,448 homes lost to the flames. Victoria followed with five fatalities and 396 homes lost.

For the victims who lost everything, many were beyond thankful for the generosity and community spirit demonstrated. Red Cross Australia has shared the stories of various victims, with all expressing their thanks to the public.

“Complete strangers … donated to the Red Cross, who wouldn’t know us from a bar of soap but they’ve all given financially, that has been an amazing help for us this year, because it has taken the pressure off,” one victim said.

“Whenever we’ve needed money to do things, it’s been there.”

Australian novelist, poet and playwright Thomas Keneally AO was moved by the generosity displayed towards bushfire victims. It inspired him to write a poem, The Power of Humanity, which he donated to the Red Cross. Video: Australian Red Cross/Vimeo.

Tileah Dobson is the news and queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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