How to Help Australia

The devastating fires this month have ruined lives and livelihoods. Here’s how to help.

The human toll from the bushfires in Victoria are far greater than any single natural disaster in recent Australian history. Beyond the fatalities, injuries, and lost homes, the fires, which burned across the state earlier this month, also ravaged key Australian farming regions. Thousands of heads of cattle and sheep were destroyed and thousands of tons of vegetables and fruit were lost as more than a million acres fell to the flames, Melbourne’s Age newspaper reported earlier this week. In many cases, surviving stock have nothing to eat, with paddocks and barns scorched to the earth. The full economic toll is only just being reckoned now. Thousands of mature olive trees have been lost, and costly farm machinery melted. Many wine producers in the Bendigo, Beechworth, and Heathcote regions won’t have an ’09 vintage at all, and there’s a question mark over 2010. A handful of regional restaurants have been razed. The Yarra Valley, perhaps the most high-profile food-and-wine producing region in the state, was among the worst affected, with some producers losing not only their homes and their vines, but also their entire cellars.

While celebrities have made headlines with their donations to the bushfire appeal (actress Nicole Kidman gave some $320,000 and touring pop singer Pink has pledged $250,000), the food community Down Under is doing its share, with fundraising dinners being held around the country. Australians have dug deep, despite the current specter of the global financial crisis, with donations now totaling something in the vicinity of $77 million. Despite the footage of koalas drinking you’ve seen on the television, there’s not really an upbeat side to this story, unless it’s the generosity thousands of people have shown in supporting those affected by the fires. To donate, contact the Australian Red Cross.

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