Cybersecurity Threats Call for a Global Response

Credit: International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

By David Lipton
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 14 2020 – Last March, Operation Taiex led to the arrest of the gang leader behind the Carbanak and Cobalt malware attacks on over 100 financial institutions worldwide.

This law enforcement operation included the Spanish national police, Europol, FBI, the Romanian, Moldovan, Belarusian, and Taiwanese authorities, as well as private cybersecurity companies. Investigators found out that hackers were operating in at least 15 countries.

We all know that money moves quickly around the world. As Operation Taiex shows, cybercrime is doing the same, becoming increasingly able to collaborate rapidly across borders.

To create a cyber-secure world, we must be as fast and globally integrated as the criminals. Facing a global threat with local resources will not be enough. Countries need to do more internally and internationally to coordinate their efforts.

How to best work together

To begin, the private sector offers many good examples of cooperation. The industry deserves credit for taking the lead in many areas—developing technical and risk management standards, convening information-sharing forums, and spending considerable resources.

International bodies, including the Group of 7 Cyber Experts group and the Basel Committee, are creating awareness and identifying sound practices for financial sector supervisors. This is important work.

But there is more to be done, especially if we take a global perspective. There are four areas where the international community can come together and boost the work being done at the national level:

First, we need to develop a greater understanding of the risks: the source and nature of threats and how they might impact financial stability. We need more data on threats and on the impact of successful attacks to better understand the risks.

Second, we need to improve collaboration on threat intelligence, incident reporting and best practices in resilience and response. Information sharing between the private and public sector needs to be improved—for example, by reducing barriers to banks reporting issues to financial supervisors and law enforcement.

Different public agencies within a country need to communicate seamlessly. And most challenging, information sharing between countries must improve.

Third, and related, regulatory approaches need to achieve greater consistency. Today, countries have different standards, regulations, and terminology. Reducing this inconsistency will facilitate more communication.

Finally, knowing that attacks will come, countries need to be ready for them. Crisis preparation and response protocols should be developed at both the national and cross-border level, so as to be able to respond and recover operations as soon as possible.

Crisis exercises have become crucial in building resilience and the ability to respond, by revealing gaps and weaknesses in processes and decision making.

Connecting the global dots
Because a cyberattack can come from anywhere in the world, or many places at once, crisis response protocols must be articulated within regions and globally.

That means the relevant authorities need to know “whom to call” during a crisis, in nearby and, ideally, also in faraway countries. For small or developing countries, this is a challenge that needs international attention.

Many rely on financial services or correspondent lines provided by global banks for financial connection. Developing cross-border response protocols will help countries understand their respective roles in a crisis and ensure a coordinated response in the event of a crisis.

The Group of 7 countries has made an excellent start at building collaboration on cybersecurity, but this effort needs to be broadened to each and every country.

Here the IMF can play an important role. With a much broader representation than most of the standard-setting institutions, the IMF has the ability to raise the concerns of emerging-market and developing countries to a global level.

Because any place is a good place to start an attack, it is in the ultimate interest of advanced economies to work with other countries to share information, coordinate actions, and build capacity.

At the IMF, we work with countries that need to build this capacity, developing the skills and expertise needed to recognize and effectively counter cybersecurity threats. Our international partners are doing the same, and we work regularly with an array of stakeholders in the public and private sector.

Successful cyber-attacks have the potential to hamper financial development by creating distrust, especially if personal and financial data are compromised.

If we want to reap the benefits of new technologies that can develop markets and expand financial inclusion, we have to preserve trust, and ensure the security of information and communications technologies.

With cybersecurity, there is always more to be done simply because the pace of change is breathtakingly fast.

*Prior to joining the IMF, David Lipton was Special Assistant to President Clinton, and served as Senior Director for International Economic Affairs at the National Economic Council and the National Security Council at the White House

IMFBlog is a forum for the views of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff and officials on pressing economic and policy issues of the day.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF and its Executive Board.

Deep clean: How ‘blue finance’ can save our oceans

The world’s oceans are under siege. Wide ranging projects and innovative financing are needed to clean up the seas before it is too late. Photo: Francesco Ricciardi

By Ingrid van Wees
Jan 14 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Cleaning the world’s oceans and keeping them clean is a gargantuan task that will involve far-reaching projects backed by innovative forms of financing

The world’s oceans are running out of breath. In the past 50 years, we have lost nearly half our coral reefs and mangrove forests and the size of marine populations has halved. A third of global fish stocks are already depleted.

If trends continue, it is estimated that there will be no stocks left for commercial fishing by 2048 in the Asia-Pacific region alone. By 2052 oceans might contain more plastic than fish by weight and 90% of coral reefs may be lost.

The “blue economy”, which includes livelihoods and other economic benefits derived from oceans, is estimated at between $3 trillion to $6 trillion per year globally. Oceans contribute significantly to the gross domestic product of many developing countries—as much as 13% in Indonesia and 19% in Viet Nam.

Thirty-four million people in our region are engaged in commercial fishing. In Southeast Asia alone, the export value of the fish caught was $19.5 billion in 2015. But the cost of overfishing far exceeds this amount. Overfishing reduced the aggregate net benefit of global fisheries by $83 billion in 2012, with two-thirds of this loss occurring in Asia.

A ‘source to sea’ rescue plan

Saving our blighted oceans is a key development challenge, with the future viability of so many economies and livelihoods at stake. Clearly, the declining health of the world’s oceans is an issue that does not just affect a single industry, country or sector. It is a threat to the entire planet and all of its residents. The solution, therefore, must be broad and far-reaching as well.

This involves strategies that cut across multiple sectors and countries of the region in a holistic, “source to sea” approach. Governments, NGOs, businesses and other stakeholders all need to do their part. This includes reducing marine pollution at the source while protecting and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems and rivers.

Alternative livelihood and business opportunities need to be created. Port and coastal infrastructure is overdue for modernization. There’s an urgent need for ocean-friendly infrastructure including integrated solid waste management, ecologically-sensitive port facilities, and municipal and industrial wastewater and effluent treatment. Equally crucial are sustainable agribusinesses that reduce runoff of fertilizers, agrochemicals, waste, and soil erosion, as well as a sustainable aquaculture sector.

Attracting the scale of finance needed

The key challenge to implementing these far-reaching solutions is financing. Large-scale investments are required to support these projects and the private sector is the only source with the vast financial resources needed. However, attracting private investors can be tricky for ocean health-related projects.

The private sector needs a return on its investment which is usually achieved through charges to a ‘user’ base, either a beneficiary or a polluter. As with other global public goods however, it’s often impossible to ascribe direct charges for a project (such as those addressing coastal erosion) given the lack of an identified ‘user’ base. Moreover, when user charges can be applied, their level is constrained by affordability considerations, such as in municipal wastewater projects. This results in a volatile or at least uncertain revenue model, compromising bankability and constraining the flows of private capital.

“Blue funds” have huge potential to help overcome these challenges. Arranged by governments or development finance institutions, they could provide much-needed credit enhancement to projects in the form of ‘blue credits’. These credits are similar to carbon credits as they provide revenue support based on the value of the avoided costs from doing a high impact project. Such funds could also support issuance by underlying project sponsors of more creditworthy blue bonds to raise competitive long-term capital from the markets.

Multilateral development banks can help by developing blue project selection criteria and policy frameworks, creating financial instruments and products, blue funds or similar financial mechanisms, mobilizing concessional finance, and preparing bankable project pipelines.

Green financing has already beaten a path for blue financing to follow. Green instruments aim to pool projects together to diversify risks and enable wider access to financing by tapping the capital markets through green equities and bonds. By enhancing the bankability of a project, these instruments can encourage a scaling up of investments in renewable energy, reforestation, watershed management, air quality, and clean transport.

Blue finance investments can make the difference

ADB has issued $2.2 billion of Green Bonds since 2010. With additional support, blue investments can be similarly successful. Given the urgency and scale of the problem, these investments need to gain traction rapidly. They are not yet well understood and currently perceived as slow and risky, so it may take decades to realize, verify, and capitalize on conservation benefits.

But there is hope that it won’t take long. Blue funds offer an avenue to work with governments to improve the risk-return profiles of projects and structure pooled investment products that can unlock private capital. For blue finance to become mainstream, governments and the general public need to be convinced of the urgency of financing projects that support ocean health. Development partners like ADB can help quantify the real costs and benefits of blue investments for both governments and the private sector. As these benefits are better understood, we expect more willingness to finance the related costs.

The local knowledge of development organizations, as well as their strong relationships with national and municipal governments and other development partners, will be critical to ensuring that the right blue investments are made in the region. This is why ADB has launched a new Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economies.

Deep-cleaning our oceans is a massive undertaking, and the price tag will be similarly large. Blue finance offers a way to share the funding of these initiatives. However, we must act now, while there is still time.

This story was originally published by ADB-Asian Development Blog

Was China Manipulating Its Currency?

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 14 2020 – Many argue that China’s impressive growth for last four decades has been due to deliberate exchange rate undervaluation, promoting exports and discouraging imports. In August last year, the Trump administration accused China of engaging in currency manipulation.

Apparently as part of the first phase of their latest trade deal, on 13 January, the US no longer designates any major trading partner, including China, of being a currency manipulator. However, Switzerland has been added to the US watchlist which also includes China, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Post-war US hegemony
When the US Treasury Department accuses a country of ‘currency manipulation’, it authorizes retaliatory US action for ostensible exchange rate management intended to gain ‘unfair’ advantage in international trade.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

After it came through the Second World War relatively unscathed and primed, the US current account and trade deficits have grown since the 1960s saw the end of its early post-war surpluses after European and Japanese economic recovery, reconstruction and industrialization.

Since then, US dollar (USD) foreign exchange (forex) reserves accumulation – especially by Japan, China and oil-exporting states investing in US Treasury bills – has long financed the US current account (consumption over production, and investments over national savings) and fiscal (government spending over revenue) deficits.

Chinese exchange rate undervaluation
China’s rapid export-led growth with low wages, raising savings and investments from profits, has been attributed by some to rapid forex reserves accumulation to keep its exchange rate low.

Like most other developing and ‘socialist’ economies, following the end of the Bretton Woods arrangements under President Nixon’s watch in the early 1970s, the renminbi (RMB) real exchange rate during the 1980s was weak, arguably reflecting its trade account then.

The RMB exchange rate was considered undervalued for much of the 1990s. Initially, it declined until 1993, then strengthened over the following three years, before weakening again with other East Asian currencies during the 1997-1998 regional financial crises.

Chicken and egg economics
China’s exchange rate competitiveness’ contributions to export growth and the current account surplus are undeniable. However, the evidence that its export-led industrialization was due to deliberate exchange rate undervaluation – owing to forex reserves accumulation – remains weak.

Instead, China’s exchange rate competitiveness was mainly due to its efforts to achieve exchange rate and currency stability by managing an informal peg of the RMB to the USD. Following the Hongkong dollar’s seemingly successful USD peg from 1983, and the failure of various earlier exchange rate arrangements, the managed peg became policy as China’s growth stalled in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square incident.

Although the resulting exchange rate competitiveness undoubtedly enabled rapid industrialization and growth, with exports supplementing domestic demand, there is no strong economic rationale for insisting that forex reserve accumulation is most growth-enabling.

RMB appreciation
China reluctantly gave in to US-led pressures for the RMB to appreciate from the early 21st century. Long dominant in the Bretton Woods institutions, the G7 and the G20, the US accused China of ‘currency manipulation’ to gain an ‘unfair’ advantage in international trade, causing ‘global imbalances’, including the huge US current account deficit.

The RMB appreciated from 2002, as the ratio of Chinese to US prices increased from 22% in 2002 to over half during 2011-2018, reducing China’s export competitiveness, lowering its exports/GDP and investment/GDP ratios, thus slowing growth.

The RMB’s real exchange rate – understood as the ratio of Chinese to international prices, as measured by the ratio of its dollar GDP at the official exchange rate to its purchasing power parity GDP – then rose for over a decade during 2003-2013, especially during 2006-2011.

China’s growth slowdown
As growth and trade fell in the 2008-2009 Great Recession, China’s domestic stimulus response accelerated the transition to greater domestic consumption, as wage incomes rose, profits slipped and RMB appreciation slowed. These developments undoubtedly reduced China’s economic, export and forex reserves growth, as the RMB’s real exchange rate strengthened.

After China’s exports’ share of GDP peaked at 35% in 2005, the RMB real exchange rate appreciated fastest during 2006-2011, causing the RMB to be over-valued for a decade until its 2018 depreciation in response to Trump’s trade war.

RMB appreciation has undoubtedly reduced export competitiveness, export/GDP ratios, externalities from exports, and export-led growth. Meanwhile, China’s reserves to GDP ratio has been declining as forex reserves accumulation ended a decade ago.

Meanwhile, declining unemployment and underemployment, with rising labour force utilization, have improved wage remuneration and working conditions, eroding into profits from previous, largely uncompensated labour productivity increases.

Savings, investments and growth have thus declined as domestic consumption has risen. Excessive RMB appreciation over the last decade has thus slowed rapid Chinese growth, but its modest depreciation after 2018 may not reverse this adverse effect sufficiently.

The story has changed
Contrary to the popular narrative of a continuously and deliberately weakened RMB exchange rate, China was forced by US-led international pressure to reverse RMB undervaluation almost two decades ago.

Higher incomes, reduction of earlier fast-rising income inequalities and the stronger RMB have significantly increased Chinese mass consumption, with less left for corporate profits, savings and investments, as slowing Chinese growth over the last decade suggests.

As RMB overvaluation for much of the last decade until 2019 was not demanded by the US or others, there has been no support from US allies for the Trump administration’s latest charge of ‘currency manipulation’ by China.

Has China Been Manipulating Its Currency?

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 14 2020 – Many argue that China’s impressive growth for last four decades has been due to deliberate exchange rate undervaluation, promoting exports and discouraging imports. Last year, the Trump administration accused China of engaging in currency manipulation.

Post-war US hegemony
When the US Treasury Department accuses a country of ‘currency manipulation’, it authorizes retaliatory US action for ostensible exchange rate management intended to gain ‘unfair’ advantage in international trade.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

After it came through the Second World War relatively unscathed and primed, the US current account and trade deficits have grown since the 1960s saw the end of its early post-war surpluses after European and Japanese economic recovery, reconstruction and industrialization.

Since then, US dollar (USD) foreign exchange (forex) reserves accumulation – especially by Japan, China and oil-exporting states investing in US Treasury bills – has long financed the US current account (consumption over production, and investments over national savings) and fiscal (government spending over revenue) deficits.

Chinese exchange rate undervaluation
China’s rapid export-led growth with low wages, raising savings and investments from profits, has been attributed by some to rapid forex reserves accumulation to keep its exchange rate low.

Like most other developing and ‘socialist’ economies, following the end of the Bretton Woods arrangements under President Nixon’s watch in the early 1970s, the renminbi (RMB) real exchange rate during the 1980s was weak, arguably reflecting its trade account then.

The RMB exchange rate was considered undervalued for much of the 1990s. Initially, it declined until 1993, then strengthened over the following three years, before weakening again with other East Asian currencies during the 1997-1998 regional financial crises.

Chicken and egg economics
China’s exchange rate competitiveness’ contributions to export growth and the current account surplus are undeniable. However, the evidence that its export-led industrialization was due to deliberate exchange rate undervaluation – owing to forex reserves accumulation – remains weak.

Instead, China’s exchange rate competitiveness was mainly due to its efforts to achieve exchange rate and currency stability by managing an informal peg of the RMB to the USD. Following the Hongkong dollar’s seemingly successful USD peg from 1983, and the failure of various earlier exchange rate arrangements, the managed peg became policy as China’s growth stalled in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square incident.

Although the resulting exchange rate competitiveness undoubtedly enabled rapid industrialization and growth, with exports supplementing domestic demand, there is no strong economic rationale for insisting that forex reserve accumulation is most growth-enabling.

RMB appreciation
China reluctantly gave in to US-led pressures for the RMB to appreciate from the early 21st century. Long dominant in the Bretton Woods institutions, the G7 and the G20, the US accused China of ‘currency manipulation’ to gain an ‘unfair’ advantage in international trade, causing ‘global imbalances’, including the huge US current account deficit.

The RMB appreciated from 2002, as the ratio of Chinese to US prices increased from 22% in 2002 to over half during 2011-2018, reducing China’s export competitiveness, lowering its exports/GDP and investment/GDP ratios, thus slowing growth.

The RMB’s real exchange rate – understood as the ratio of Chinese to international prices, as measured by the ratio of its dollar GDP at the official exchange rate to its purchasing power parity GDP – then rose for over a decade during 2003-2013, especially during 2006-2011.

China’s growth slowdown
As growth and trade fell in the 2008-2009 Great Recession, China’s domestic stimulus response accelerated the transition to greater domestic consumption, as wage incomes rose, profits slipped and RMB appreciation slowed. These developments undoubtedly reduced China’s economic, export and forex reserves growth, as the RMB’s real exchange rate strengthened.

After China’s exports’ share of GDP peaked at 35% in 2005, the RMB real exchange rate appreciated fastest during 2006-2011, causing the RMB to be over-valued for a decade until its 2018 depreciation in response to Trump’s trade war.

RMB appreciation has undoubtedly reduced export competitiveness, export/GDP ratios, externalities from exports, and export-led growth. Meanwhile, China’s reserves to GDP ratio has been declining as forex reserves accumulation ended a decade ago.

Meanwhile, declining unemployment and underemployment, with rising labour force utilization, have improved wage remuneration and working conditions, eroding into profits from previous, largely uncompensated labour productivity increases.

Savings, investments and growth have thus declined as domestic consumption has risen. Excessive RMB appreciation over the last decade has thus slowed rapid Chinese growth, but its modest depreciation after 2018 may not reverse this adverse effect sufficiently.

The story has changed
Contrary to the popular narrative of a continuously and deliberately weakened RMB exchange rate, China was forced by US-led international pressure to reverse RMB undervaluation almost two decades ago.

Higher incomes, reduction of earlier fast-rising income inequalities and the stronger RMB have significantly increased Chinese mass consumption, with less left for corporate profits, savings and investments, as slowing Chinese growth over the last decade suggests.

As RMB overvaluation for much of the last decade until 2019 was not demanded by the US or others, there has been no support from US allies for the Trump administration’s latest charge of ‘currency manipulation’ by China.

In the Elusive Grip of an Abusive Partner: A Migrant’s Story

Credit: UN Women

By Fairuz Ahmed
NEW YORK, Jan 14 2020 – To live in a home with family, to have a safe environment, food and basic human necessities, are some of the essentials that most people expect to have without giving it all much thought. When a child is born, parents or caregivers are likely to provide these things. These expectations get renewed whenever someone gets married and moves to a new home, a different neighborhood, or a city. We can hardly find someone who will say that they were not expecting happiness and safety when stepping into a new relationship, or starting a new chapter of life. But these expectations of a better life turn disastrous for millions of people when they step into another country as a dependent.

For most immigrants coming to the United States of America, it seems like a golden gate to happiness, safety, security and all the perks of life. First generations of immigrants come with a mentality of struggling and achieving their dreams while maintaining their traditional and cultural ways. They invest in making their dreams come true, but at the same time, they long for the lost traits of their old home and societal practices as they adjust to new ways of life. They try to hold strongly to their roots and expect their children to be moral citizens of the United States, successful and accomplished, yet having a love for their home country which they, themselves left behind. The second generation of Immigrants has their lives a little bit more sorted. They are given steadier lives compared to their parents, but in return, they face the constant challenge of adjusting to two types of very different societal paradigms and customs. For instance, when it comes to people from the Asian community, the children born and raised in the United States, are expected to marry a girl or boy from the country of origin of their parents. The spouse is expected to be an ideal person who upholds family values and cultural norms. Many times people from developing countries aspire to get their children married to someone who is from the United States, in hope of someday making their way into this country of dreams and in hope of their children having a better life. This mindset gives birth to a population of dependent spouses.

The spouses of the second generation, and sometimes even of the first generations who migrate to the United States are a unique segment of people who in most cases remain solely dependent on their partner to enter the United States and also for their livelihood after migration. A portion of them integrate well into society, study and hold jobs eventually after the move. But the majority fails to spread their wings, becoming a burden and potential targets for abuse. They remain dependent on their spouses for a long period of time, and are severely governed by the spouses, in-laws and are forced to stay imprisoned in their own homes. The real scenarios, truth, and consequences remain in a gray zone, silenced and hushed. Women become victims of other’s high expectations. They become the means by which others carry out frustration.

To understand such domestic violence, even if we listen to the voices of the immigrants’ wives and women, we will only get to see only a fraction of the picture. The numbers of reported abuse and violence against women are alarming as is. In a study carried by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes in 2019, it is estimated that of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000- 58 percent) were killed by intimate partners or family members, meaning that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. From the Global Database on Violence against Women, some national studies were done and it shows that up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

The United States is a developed first world country, provides benefits and assistance to anyone under threat and abuse, and that is a relief to hundreds of people. Thankfully, it is the existence of the various organizations, NGOs, governmental institutions and social workers that many women and children seek assistance and are saved from the grave and severe situations at home. However, the number of people seeking out or coming across help is very little and may be viewed as the tip of an iceberg. The segment of victimized individuals mostly lives under the poverty line, not mixing much with the society and remaining invisible for most parts. The language barrier, lack of friends and family in this country, helplessness, and void of financial stability makes matters exponentially worse.

Newly arrived immigrant women whose immigration status has not been permanently established, or are undocumented, conditional residents or whose visas have special needs, somewhat live at the mercy of their partners. Most often than not, these women are manipulated with unsettled immigration status as a means of continuing their abusive relationships. Their passports, social security cards, certificates or any other important documents are held by the partner or by the families they come into. They are constantly harassed and intimidated by threats of abandonment, emotionally and mentally tortured, their children are threatened to be separated and harmed if they communicate with others, and their entire financial situation is monitored and handled by the abusers. Many times it is heard that the abusers threaten to harm their family back home too.

I myself am a survivor of 15 years of emotional, financial and physical abuse by my partner. I am also an immigrant woman and mother of three daughters. My children and I were abandoned in Asia, despite being citizens of the United States of America. We were barred from coming back, denied access to our home in the United States of America, and left without any sort of financial help. Moreover, I faced identity theft and my social security details were compromised after being announced deceased by my spouse. From my own personal journey, starting from the detection and identification of abuse, speaking up and seeking help, reaching out to the proper authorities, participating in therapy and counseling for myself and for my children, going through phases of self-restoration and healing periods, and lastly through rebuilding our lives, I have gathered valuable insights about patterns of abuse and overcoming it. I have been working closely with various organizations in New York City and have met and talked with hundreds of women who are victims of abuse by their spouses, partners, and family members, and are from immigrant families. I have volunteered and sought help from organizations named SAKHI: for South Asian Women, Safe Horizon, Chaya CDC NYC, Sanctuary for families, Safest community-based NGO in Bronx, WOMANKIND: I am Womankind, and with Make the Road New York.

I wish to shed some light on the topic of domestic abuse among immigrant women of the Asian demographics from my personal point of view and experiences. It is my hope that others can be brought to awareness through the sharing of my story, and through the discussions of the root causes that can cause these situations.

Sources:
1.World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, p.2. For individual country information, see UN Women Global Database on Violence against Women.

2. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2019). Global Study on Homicide 2019, p. 10.

3. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures

Bushfires Hasten the Death Knell of many Australian Native Animals and Plants

Kangaroos in Bawley Point on the south coast of New South Wales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Australia, Jan 14 2020 – The chatter of cockatoos and lorikeets has given way to an eerie silence in smoke enveloped charred landscapes across south-eastern Australia. The unrelenting bushfires have driven many native animal and plant species to the brink of extinction and made several fauna more vulnerable with vast swathes of their habitat incinerated.

As many as 13 native animal and bird species may become locally extinct following the devastating bushfires, according to an initial analysis by national environment organisations, including the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia.

These vulnerable species include, Koalas, Regent Honeyeater, Blue Mountains Water Skink, Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby and Southern Corroboree Frog in areas of New South Wales; Glossy Black Cockatoo and Kangaroo Island Dunnart in South Australia; Greater Glider and Long-footed Potoroo in East Gippsland in Victoria; and Quokkas and Western Ground Parrots in areas of Western Australia.

“Early estimates indicate the number of vertebrate animals affected since the fires started in September 2019 could be as high as one billion, with most of these likely to have been killed immediately by the severe fires, or dying soon after as burnt landscapes leave them with little or no food and shelter,” said the Acting Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in a statement.

  • Australia is one of 17 countries described as being ‘megadiverse‘. The continent country is home to between 600,000 and 700,000 species, many of which are endemic, that is they are found nowhere else in the world. These include, for example, 84 percent of plant species, 83 percent of mammals, and 45 percent of birds.
  • “It is estimated that most of the range has already burnt for between 20 and 100 threatened species of plants and animals, putting them at even greater risk of extinction”, the IUCN statement added. 
  • Some species have had large parts of their entire habitat burned, for example, the native grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) and the spectacled flying fox or spectacled fruit bat.

ACF’s nature campaigner Jess Abrahams told IPS, “Flying foxes are particularly vulnerable to heatwaves. Spectacled flying foxes are just one of Australia’s many threatened species that are being pushed to the brink by the climate crisis. A heatwave in Cairns in November 2018 killed 23,000 endangered spectacled flying foxes — almost one-third of the total population in Australia — and the current devastating summer is killing thousands more”.

“The fate of our wildlife is intimately connected to our own fate; the loss of a key pollinating species like the grey-headed flying-fox, would have huge impacts on our future food supply,” Abrahams added.

  • Some 34 species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia over the last 200 years, the highest rate of loss for any region in the world. In October 2019, over 200 scientists in an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison had expressed concern about the alarming rate at which Australia’s native species were disappearing and cautioned that another 17 animals could go extinct in the next 20 years.

The bushfire crisis may have undermined decades of conservation gains. With trees and foliage burnt and no vegetation cover, the surviving wildlife will be more at risk of predation, exposure to environmental conditions – heat, cold and wind, and more vulnerable to starvation. Besides wildlife, tens and thousands of sheep, cattle and other farm animals have perished in the fires or sustained burn injuries. 

The prolonged drought and bushfires have also led to more animals vying with communities for the scarce water resources, especially in remote regions of this second driest continent on earth.

In a five-day aerial culling operation, about 10,000 camels were to be killed in drought-ravaged Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yunkunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia.

According to the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy (DEE) spokesperson, “During droughts, feral camels congregate in large herds seeking water. At these times they damage infrastructure, compete with livestock for food and water, threaten people in remote communities, destroy native vegetation and foul natural water holes. Culling to manage camel numbers is the only option at this time to protect these assets and people.”

“Alternatives such as trapping and removal for domestic or overseas consumption, or live export, have prohibitive logistics and costs because of the extreme remoteness and specialised infrastructure required. There are also animal welfare concerns with trapping and transporting wild camels for overseas markets,” the spokesperson added.

Culling animals is decided on a case by case basis. Australian state and territory governments have primary responsibility for management of animals and their welfare.

APY Lands General Manager Richard King told IPS, “The Traditional Owners have requested this intervention, but they have not taken this decision lightly. We are simply doing the best we can in a dire situation. Increasing population of feral animals, such as camels, has squeezed out animals that were part of traditional Aboriginal food and also many of the bush tucker (native bush food) – berries, plums and tomatoes – as camels eat a large range of flora. This makes it hard for Aboriginal people to hunt and gather as they have done for thousands of years to survive.”

Besides camels, kangaroos, horses, donkeys and pigs are also culled to manage sustainable feral populations as they are unfettered by the normal constraints of population growth, such as predators, disease and parasite load.

Arthur Georges from University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology told IPS, “In the Australian Capital Territory, the strategy is to take off a fixed number of kangaroos each year rather than wait for numbers to build up and cause a crisis where more animals need to be culled. This is a sensible strategy as some level of control, preferably using the meat and other products, is sensible from both a conservation and an animal welfare perspective. In the broader context, culling is also beneficial from an agricultural perspective because of the biosecurity risk and the impact on production.”

The Australian Federal Government on Monday announced an initial investment of AUD 50 million, drawn from the government’s AUD 2 billion bushfire recovery fund, for wildlife and habitat recovery.

Welcoming the announcement as an important first step, WWF-Australia CEO, Dermot O’Gorman said, “Significantly more funding will be required to help our threatened species recover.”

As this ecological tragedy continues to unfold, Professor David Lindenmayer from Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society said in a media release, “Fires burn patchily, and small unburnt patches, half burnt logs and dead or fire-damaged trees are commonly left behind. Our research has demonstrated that these patches and remaining woody debris are very important to recovering wildlife populations. Standing fire-damaged trees as well as dead trees and fallen logs also provide many resources to surviving and recovering wildlife such as food, shelter and breeding hollows. Many trees that look dead will still be alive.”

The ACF, together with other environment groups, have written to Australia’s Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley with a five-point plan, including funding to provide feed, water and habitat structures in worst hit areas, and establishing breeding programs, to fast track recovery efforts for the most at-risk wildlife.

Arid Recovery, an independent not-for-profit organisation which runs wildlife reserve in South Australia, has come up with a simple design of water fountains that can be made from basic materials with little skill required.

Its General Manager Katherine Tuft told IPS, “We developed them to support native wildlife in the drought-affected reserve that we manage and shared the design via social media for people in bushfire-affected areas to assist animals and potentially livestock. At least 30 different individuals or groups have made their own, including the NSW Environment Department who have put a factsheet together for their staff and volunteers to make them.”

Meanwhile, wildlife hospitals, zoos, veterinarians and volunteers have been caring for displaced and injured wildlife with generous donations from the community. People have been knitting mittens for signed paws, donating blankets for joeys, making bird boxes and putting out birdbaths and bird feed. Officials in New South Wales have been air-dropping carrots and sweet potatoes into the fire-ravaged habitat of the endangered brush-tailed rock-wallaby.

It may be months, if not years, before the impact of the bushfires on Australia’s biodiversity will be determined.