Kangaroo Island (Australia) (AFP)
After the terrible fires on Kangaroo Island that devastated this Australian natural sanctuary, Rick Morris had to face an additional ordeal as a farmer and resolve to bury 400 of his dead sheep in his burning farm.
And again, "we are among those who were lucky," he observes.
The huge fires that have been raging since September in Australia have left 28 dead, including two on Kangaroo Island in the state of South Australia, and devoured 10 million hectares, an area larger than that of South Korea or from Portugal.
Much of the vast scorched area was used as pasture for herds of cattle and sheep.
"We could see the full extent of Mother Nature's anger," said AFP Rick Morris, who is also president of the island's Chamber of Agriculture.
- Hay by helicopters -
The fire swept "the island from the south side to the north side and made no quarter between the two," he said. "I am amazed that there were not more people killed."
The Australian military, which has deployed 3,000 men to aid relief in the affected areas of the country, has airlifted firefighters to Kangaroo Island. She also dropped hay bales by helicopter to cut-off island farmers.
For General Damian Cantwell, who commands the joint firefighting force in South Australia, Kangaroo Island has "a long way to go" to recover.
"I saw a level of destruction that still surprises me," he told AFP. "Many farmers are in distress, many inhabitants are suffering, some families have lost everything and are struggling to find out what they will be able to do".
"There is no end date for this mission and it is very important that no one (...) wonders when it will end," he adds.
Agricultural activities on Kangaroo Island represent 150 million Australian dollars (93 million euros) in turnover.
Agriculture is the main employer of the island and the fires will leave a lasting mark, underlines a local agronomist, Daniel Pledge.
According to him, the peasants will have to buy additional food for their cattle, seeds for their burnt plots. In addition, their animals will be less fertile due to the stress endured.
"It is a snowball effect that we cannot measure and, frankly, we are very worried about our local economy," he told AFP. "For some individuals, these effects could last for five years and it is long."
Australian farmers have already suffered a prolonged drought which has hampered access to water in the southeast of the country. Fiona Simpson, who chairs the National Farmers Federation, says all Australian farmers are under stress.
- "Burned, not broken" -
"Whether it is drought or recent fires, arid conditions are pushing many of our farmers to the limit," she said. "The situation is getting worse day by day and there are no signs of improvement."
The government has promised immediate aid to farmers of 75,000 Australian dollars, drawn from the 2 billion (1.2 billion euros) over two years allocated to a national fund to support reconstruction.
This help will be welcome on Kangaroo Island, says Rick Morris. In the meantime, he keeps his flock, which still has 4,500 animals, locked up, until the fire no longer threatens.
"We feed them by hand with all the nutrients they need and it will be like this until April or May when the expected rain comes," he said.
Hard hit psychologically and financially, the island's farmers should see the disappearance of certain farms, but many are already looking to the future. Like Rick Morris, who wants to be optimistic: "when these fires will stop, we can regroup and move forward together," he says. "We were burned, not broken."
© 2020 AFP