No relief in sight as Australian drought fuels bushfires

This photo taken on August 7, 2018 shows farmer Clive Barton feeding his sheep with a bale of hay as the land is too dry for grass to grow in the drought-hit area of Duri in New South Wales. (AFP / Saeed Khan)
Updated 17 August 2018
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No relief in sight as Australian drought fuels bushfires

  • Record-low rainfall in some regions and successive seasons of above-average temperatures have blighted vast tracts of Australia’s grazing and crop land
  • Australia recorded its fifth-driest July on record last month

SYDNEY: The drought sweeping through large tracts of Australia is set to intensify over the next three months and is fueling unseasonal winter bushfires, the leading meteorological agency and a fire official said on Thursday.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecast of more warm, dry weather suggests hopes for a reprieve from what farmers describe as the worst drought they have ever seen are unlikely to be realized before the Australian summer.
An unusually warm winter followed by what is expected to be a warmer-than-average spring “would mean intensification of the existing drought conditions across parts of eastern Australia,” the bureau’s outlook report said.
The report forecast below-average rainfall for large parts of Australia until November, the early part of the southern hemisphere summer.
Record-low rainfall in some regions and successive seasons of above-average temperatures have blighted vast tracts of Australia’s grazing and crop land.
All of New South Wales, the country’s most populous state that accounts for a quarter of Australia’s agricultural output by value, is officially in drought.
Firefighters there were battling 81 grass and bushfires on Thursday, 38 of which remained uncontained, authorities said. While none of the fires posed threats to people or property, it was still an unusual event for the Australian winter.
Almost 650 firefighters were working on the blazes, helped by more than 40 aircraft.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Inspector Ben Shepherd said the drought had had a “significant effect” on the bushfires and was set to continue.
“There is no real positive outlook at the moment, especially when you do look at the three-month temperature and rainfall outlook,” Shepherd told Reuters.
“We need a significant amount of rain across New South Wales, not from just the drought aspect but also from the fire aspect,” he said.
Australia sent about 100 firefighters to California on Aug. 3 to help American authorities battle deadly wildfires sweeping the northwest of the United States, suggesting that authorities did not expect bushfires at home in the southern winter.
Shepherd said the size and number of fires in Australia were typical of late summer.
“We’re seeing fires on the far south coast (of New South Wales) that we wouldn’t typically see until sometimes as late as January or February, so what we’re seeing is very unusual,” he said.
Australia recorded its fifth-driest July on record last month. It was the driest January-to-July period in New South Wales since 1965 and marked seven consecutive months of below-average rainfall for the state.


UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

A European flag and a British Union flag hang outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

  • May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds
  • May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success”

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.
Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.
But there was no sign of a breakthrough, and the government faces a deadline of the end of Tuesday to decide whether they have enough votes to pass the deal, so that a vote can be held on Wednesday.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success.”
May is likely to ask for a delay to Brexit at the Brussels summit. If a deal is approved, she says she will ask the EU to extend the deadline until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that would mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament — something the government is keen to avoid.
May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.
Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.
Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.
“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.
After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.
EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.
“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?“
Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.
Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the UK vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.