Sydney choked by hazardous haze from Australia bush fires

Thick smoke from wildfires shroud the Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Australia on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Sydney choked by hazardous haze from Australia bush fires

  • City cancels ferries and some offices in the downtown area were evacuated
  • Winds expected to clear the air but also fan the brush fires

SYDNEY: Wildfires engulfed the Australian city of Sydney on Tuesday in haze so thick in some places it was 11 times worse than the level considered “hazardous,” and was apt to trigger fire alarms.
The city canceled ferries and some offices in the downtown area were evacuated.
Local health officials advised people to stay indoors as much as possible and those with heart and lung problems were told to avoid all outdoor activity.
“The smoke here in Sydney is extremely bad today, it is some of the worst air quality we’ve seen,” Richard Broome of New South Wales Health told reporters.
“We are just urging people once again to take these (conditions) seriously,” Broome said.
Ambulances have been answering dozens of respiratory-related calls a day, said the head of NSW Ambulance, Brent Armitage.
Sydney Trains warned that fire alarms at train stations might be set off by the thick smoke drifting into the city from fires ringing Sydney.
The regional environmental department said the air quality index, or AQI, in some parts of the city was more than 11 times the 200 reading considered hazardous.
Given the dire air quality, workers should not be forced to toil on outdoor job sites while the haze persists, said Unions NSW’s assistant secretary, Thomas Costa.
“Toxicity is very, very high,” Costa said.
Winds were expected that could clear the air but also fan the brush fires, weather forecasts showed.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 31 min 41 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.