Long term reduction in Australian deaths from, bushfires, cyclones and heatwaves.

The data for this graphic is sourced from the Emergency Management Australia (EMA) online Disasters Database. www.ema.gov.au/ema/emaDisasters.nsf
Added 8 August, I have just heard of this 2006 report by Dr Indur M. Goklany of the US Dept of Interior, “Death and Death Rates Due to Extreme Weather Events: Global and U.S. Trends”, 1900-2004. See entries at the Roger Pielke Snr Blog.
History of disaster deaths in Australia
Interesting that huge reductions in all categories of deaths are against a greatly increased population compared to pre WWII.

It is notable that for many years the mainstream media tell us “Global Warming” (GW) is increasing cyclone frequency & intensity, drought severity, heatwaves and anyone “in the street” would assume GW would also be increasing bushfire frequency / severity etc.

The impression from media reports is that cyclones are getting worse yet despite a vastly increased coastal population, deaths are way down. Sure, with satellite images, cyclone warnings are light years ahead of what was possible earlier. I know housing can be improved in cyclone prone regions now but is there a case that 100 years ago houses were all flimsy shacks ?

In the case of bushfires it must be true that firefighting and warnings have improved, yet against this our general increase in population plus the huge movement to fringe city bush blocks post 1960 must have placed vastly more people at risk. We should not be surprised if in a bushfire season sometime, circumstances move against fire fighters and circa 100 lives are lost. Imagine the media hysteria, global warming would be blamed. Whenever we see fires reported on TV we see housing in foolish places, nestling in bush etc.

Despite expanding use of air conditioning our increased population must mean that vulnerable groups still exist in great numbers.

Finally, who would have picked from these statistics that 2005 would have been Australia’s “hottest year ever”, that’s according to the BoM.

4 thoughts on “Long term reduction in Australian deaths from, bushfires, cyclones and heatwaves.”

  1. I have already added this at Jennifer’s blog but it can go here too.
    There could be several factors keeping heat wave deaths lower despite
    greatly increased population. Some lung diseases have been all but
    Our life expectancy is greater so presumably we are fitter to cope with
    stress. On the other hand we are informed that air pollution is worse
    for those
    millions of us in cities. So I see factors pulling this way and that.
    It might take some medical historian to unravel the reasons why deaths
    are lower
    now. How did you get to hear about the EMA information Warwick ?

  2. Gidday Beachgirl, Lucky you being at the beach.
    I learnt about the EMA database after finding EMA on the Net, after reading a book, “Thredbo, a tragedy waiting to happen-and other Australian Disasters”.
    Just quickly, Thredbo is a ski village in the NSW Australian Alps and in 1997 a landslide one winters night took 18 lives. Many famous Australian disasters are outlined and in the back of the book is a 3 page Table summarizes major Australian disasters of all types from 1845 to 2001. EMA is mentioned as the source. I took what data I could from the book and improved it from prowling through the EMA online database. The only numbers I tried to exclude were deaths at sea from cyclones, mainly in early years. There were some quite big losses but seemed to me separate from the issue of onshore deaths.
    All the best.

  3. I am particularly intereted in the bushfire deaths. It is these which bring together all the myths. I am old enough to have been around the fire scene for 40 years and researched a bit about wild fire. That is caused by a combination of fuel loads, (in wet years the grasslands have high fuel loads, the bush has high fuel loads after about 20 years after a big bush fire or without controlled burning). The other factors are the coincidence of extreme heat,high winds,and ignition. Extreme heat tends to be an event which occurs all over this country and has done so forever. Now is no more so than 150 years ago.

    The bush fires occur in drought years because the bush is dry, and the grasslands burn savagely after good wet years followed by the length of time necessary to desicate the grasses. The deaths from wild fire (cf bushfire) seem to occur about every 20 years. Note Ash Wednesday 1982 Vic, then 1969 NSW, then 1939 Vic, then 1929 Vic. The grass fires occur in the wet years and when wars are on and no labour source to fight the fires. 1944 Vic, 1977 Vic,1914 Vic, 1890 Vic. Also interestingly, even though the fires in the NSW and Vic highlands were the biggest for 70 years, there were no deaths. This is because the great number of timber mills which used to be in the highlands in 1939 are now banned. The bush has been de populated by decree.

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