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March, 2019

At-a-glance: Aussies rally for flood cause

People around the country have stepped up to help the victims of the Queensland floods by organising events in their own communities.

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We list a few of them here.

– The Tamworth Country Music Festival is holding a fundraising event on January 19th at 8pm, at The Pub on Gunnedah Rd, Tamworth. Some of the biggest names in Australian country music have lent their time to be part of the event.

– Tennis superstars Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Kim Clijsters and many more will take part in Tennis Rally for Relief on January 16 at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Local stars Samantha Stosur and Pat Rafter will also be playing.

– Shane Warne is organising a celebrity Twenty20 cricket match, rumoured to feature the famous spin bowler, and former England captain Michael Vaughan.

– A number of collectables, like a signed Taj Burrows surfboard and NRL jersey signed by the entire Sydney Roosters team, will be up for auction at SYD Hearts QLD. The fundraiser will be held on January 25 at the Loft at Sydney’s King St Wharf.

– Dance acts have come together to lend a helping hand in Dance Aid, which will be held at the Prince Bandroom in St Kilda on January 19. Expect to see Potbelleez and Ruby Rose, amongst others, performing on the night.

– Byron Bay boutique beer brewery, Stone and Wood brewery, is donating a batch of beer to raise funds for the flood appeal.The red ale, dubbed Red Relief, will be on sale at beerhouses around the country.

– Athletics equipment and artwork will be up for auction at Onya Aid in Honey Bar in South Melbourne. Planned for Australia Day, the event will also feature the very Aussie pursuits of eating and beer-drinking.

– Comedians are urging Sydneysiders to look at the funny side of the Queensland floods by attending Evapor-Aid at Sydney Comedy Store on January 16th. Apart from local talent like Eddie Perfect and the Fully Sick Rapper, the event will feature a surprise international act.

– Airline Virgin Blue is urging passengers to donate their Velocity Points to raise funds for the flood appeal. The donation of 3,000 points will equal $25, 6,000 equals $50 and 12,000 equals $100 donation.

– Socceroo Tim Cahill is auctioning a “money can’t buy” experience on eBay to raise funds for the floods. The package includes Emirates Business Class airfare to the UK to watch an Everton home game and training session and a jersey signed by the entire Everton team. At the time this article was written, the bids had reached $60,000, with seven days left before the auction ends.

– A massive outdoor concert similar to the one organised for the Victorian bushfires of 2009 has been planned. Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kings of Leon and Michael Buble are all rumoured to have expressed interest in taking part.

– Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong has put out a call via Twitter for his supporters to join him for a ride in Glenelg to raise funds for the floods. The ride will start at Wigley Reserve in Glenelg on January 15.

– Ballroom dancers are urged to get their dancing shoes on for Dance Extravaganza, to be held on February 27 at Burnside Ballroom in Adelaide. A number of Latin dance acts will be performing on the night.

– Parramatta Council is holding a number fundraising barbeques in the municipality in order to raise $50,000 for the flood appeal. The barbeques will be attended by members of NRL club, the Parramatta Eels.

– The Yarrabah community outside of Cairns is organising a fundraising concert for January 15. Local and interstate artists will be lending their time – and voices – for the event.

– Woolworths has pledged to match all donations at Perth’s “The Deen’s Acoustic Sessions” in Northbridge on January 14. Apart from a host of local bands, businesses in the area are donating baked goods to sell to help victims of the flooding.

– If you have a sweet-tooth and live in the Perth area, check out Cupcakes 4 Qld, an event that is planned for Jan 22. The aim of this event is to give office workers some sweet treats to sell in their workplaces to raise money for the cause.

– The town of Pakenham in Victoria is getting into the spirit by holding a bachelor auction at the Pakenham Hotel on January 27. Entry to the pub is by gold coin donation, and there will be live music and door prize.

– Sydney Hip Hop artists are coming together to help victims of the flooding with an event called Blood’s Thicker Than Water, at Tone in Surry Hills on January 19.

Floods faIl to quench ‘big dry’

For Australian farmers who have struggled to make a living in southern Queensland as their crops died and their dams ran empty during years of drought, recent floods have ended the “Big Dry”.

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“We’ve had the worst drought in a generation and now we’re back to some of the best conditions in a generation,” said cattleman John Cotter.

“It doesn’t rain money but it rains potential to make money. And psychologically, it’s got enormous positives,” Cotter, who heads the farmers lobby group AgForce, said of the deluge which has flooded parts of Queensland.

“There’s a real spring in people’s step as to how they feel about it.”

Neighbouring New South Wales has also benefited from the downpour which began earlier this year, with just 40 percent of the state now in drought, compared to 81 percent in January.

Across the country, the federal government estimates that the amount of agricultural land in drought has fallen from 32 percent to 29 percent.

But while the deluge has brought hope to some farmers, giving them guaranteed water and quality pasture for the next 12 to 18 months, the water is unlikely to make it down to southern areas still in the grip of drought.

“We certainly can’t all relax and say, ‘There’s been all this rain, it’s over’,” Ian Prosser, acting director of water research at the government’s science research body CSIRO, told AFP.

“It’s certainly not over. The southern Murray Darling Basin and Victoria are still very much in drought,” he said, adding that the southern cities of Melbourne and Canberra, along with Perth in the west, also had limited water.

“And there’s every probability that that situation will continue into next summer because even if there was average rainfall this winter, there would still be below average irrigation allocations next year.”

Beginning in late February, heavy rains fell over much of central and northeastern Australia. By early March parts of Queensland were flooded, with some areas receiving their average annual rainfall in one day.

The floods mean that hundreds of gigalitres of water held in Queensland catchments will be sent downstream into the parched southern states.

But Prosser said the floods would be of little help to the country’s key farming zone, the Murray Darling Basin.

This region — which generates 39 percent of the national income derived from agricultural production — remains among the country’s worst drought-affected areas.

And because it has been in drought for so long, it will take sustained heavy rains to bring it back to condition.

Prosser said the unprecedented drought produced the risk of some irreversible changes, including the acidification of lakes and habitat losses further downstream in areas of South Australia.

“We’re probably at the cusp of some pretty big ones (changes),” he said.

“If things start to get wet again from here on in we’ll start to rescue a lot. But if we get another five years of this (drought) there’s just going to be an increasing number of things falling over.”

Prosser also warned that the deluge in some areas could not mask longer-term concerns.

“Queensland is out of a drought, but it doesn’t mean it is out of climate change,” he said.

Bleak outlook for world economy, World Bank

The World Bank offered a grim 2009 outlook Tuesday of just 0.

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9 percent growth for the global economy, while a recession was declared in Canada and a rescue for US automakers hung in the balance.

In its “Global Economic Prospects” report, the World Bank sharply cut its growth forecast and predicted world trade volume would fall 2.1 percent as a worldwide credit crisis hits rich and poor nations alike.

Developing countries\’ economies would likely expand at reduced annual pace of 4.5 percent while wealthier, developed economies are expected to contract 0.1 percent, the multilateral development lender said.

“The global economy is at a crossroads, transitioning from a sustained period of very strong developing country-led growth to one of substantial uncertainty as a financial crisis rooted in high-income countries has shaken financial markets worldwide,” said World Bank chief economists Justin Lin.

In Canada, the central bank lowered its key interest rate Tuesday by 0.75 point to 1.50 percent and said the Canadian economy had slid into recession amid the global financial crisis.

“The outlook for the world economy has deteriorated significantly and the global recession will be broader and deeper than previously anticipated,” the bank said in a statement.

In Washington, the White House demanded that Detroit automakers prove their “long-term viability” in return for a 15-billion-dollar rescue bailout but said a deal with Congress was in sight.

President George W. Bush\’s administration is making “good progress” in its talks with congressional leaders over legislation to shore up General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

“We are still working through a number of issues, some of them just small and technical, and other ones a little bit more meaty in scope, but, all in all, making sure we\’re headed in the right direction,” she said.

In Geneva, the International Air Transport Association forecast that airlines would likely lose 2.5 billion dollars (1.9 billion euros) in 2009 due to the economic crisis.

“The outlook is bleak,” said Giovanni Bisignani, the association\’s director general and chief executive.

We face the worst revenue environment in 50 years.”

Fears for Australians trapped in Mumbai hotels

More than 20 Australians are feared to be trapped in the two luxury hotels under siege by militants in Mumbai.

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Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said up to 26 Australians were believed to have been in the Taj Mahal and Oberoi/Trident hotels which were attacked by armed Islamic militants.

One Australian man has been confirmed dead and there are grave fears that another Australian could be among the estimated 125 people killed during the attacks.

Mr Smith, who spoke on Thursday (early Friday morning AEDT) with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, said Australian officials in Mumbai had made contact with some of the Australians who had been in the hotels but details about their conditions remained sketchy.

Situation \’unfolding\’

“In my conversation with Mr Mukherjee he indicated to me that the situation and events continue to unfold,” Smith told reporters in London on Thursday (early Friday AEDT).

“But we fear as many as 25 or 26 Australians could be in the hotels.

“We do know that a number of Australians have got out of the hotel, a small number, so it\’s very difficult to be precise.

“The most distressing thing that I say is that we are not in a position to vouchsafe for the safety and security of Australian nationals.

“That\’s a matter of very deep concern for us and we hope that as events unfold those Australians will ultimately be shown to be safe and secure.”

Sydney man Brett Taylor, 49, is believed to have died in a hospital in South Mumbai.

\’Second death not confirmed\’

Australian officials hold grave fears for another Australian, but Smith said he was unable to confirm what had happened to the person.

“We are not in a position to confirm the death but the information we have leaves us gravely concerned about the state of that Australian,” he said.

“That is as much information that I am able to give.”

Indian officials said police and army commandos had killed all the militants holed up in the Taj Mahal while floor-by-floor sweeps were still being carried out at the Oberoi/Trident, nearly 24 hours after gunmen stormed the buildings.

Hundreds of people are believed to be trapped inside, too terrified to leave.

Difficulty in establishing contact

Smith said Australian officials had been in contact with some Australians still in the two hotels, but he was unaware of whether any were injured.

“We have been in contact with a number but we don\’t believe we have been in contact with all the Australians in the hotels,” he said.

“We are dealing here with people in a terrible situation and on the basis of the advice that I\’ve got from officials and also from what I\’ve seen and heard publicly you\’ve got a number of Australians conducting themselves in a very stoic and brave way in terribly difficult circumstances for them and their families.”

About 2,000 Australians are believed to be in India, around 300 of whom are in Mumbai.

Hundreds of people were wounded in the attacks, with three injured Australians having been in contact with Australian officials.

Australia \’will stand by\’ India

Smith said during his telephone call with Mukherjee he had conveyed Australia\’s “deepest sympathies and condolences for the terrible attack on Indians and India.”

“We spoke of Australia\’s desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with India at this time and we offered any assistance that India may require,” Smith said.

“We have indicated that we are happy to provide AFP, Australian Federal Police, assistance so far as technical and forensic assistance is concerned.

“Minister Mukherjee, they were very grateful to receive that indication of support … but for the present they believe they have things in hand so far as seeking to bring the matter to a conclusion.

“But our offer is a standing offer and the government understands that.”

\’Confidence\’ in Indian authorities

Smith said while an unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen had claimed responsibility for the attacks, he believed it was too early to establish exactly who was behind the tragedy.

He said he had confidence in the Indian authorities\’ ability to bring the situation under control.

“But what we are dealing with here is … is an outrageous, terrible terrorist attack on a range of sites in Mumbai, including two hotels frequented by Westerners or foreigners, so it\’s a very difficult situation,” Smith said.

“For any nation this would be a terribly difficult situation but we have confidence in the Indian authorities to do their best to bring the matter to a conclusion.

“Minister Mukherjee was at pains to indicate that they understand that one of the things they need to and want to bear uppermost in their minds as they proceed is the safety and security of what minister Mukherjee described as the innocent victims in the hotels.”

Risk of militant rise in Pakistan

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Pakistan faces a “slow-motion tsunami” as the flood-ravaged nation stepped up pleas for massive global aid, warning that Islamist militants could exploit the crisis.

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Ban told a UN emergency fundraising session in New York on Thursday that the world had a duty to act while millions are still without shelter and a fifth of the country — roughly the size of England — submerged by flood waters.

“It is one of the greatest tests of global solidarity,” Ban told the General Assembly meeting, saying that Pakistan was facing a “slow-motion tsunami.”

Although weather forecasters say the monsoon systems are easing off and water levels receding, the fallout from three weeks of devastating floods that have left nearly 1,500 people dead is likely to last for years.

Pakistan and the United States have voiced growing fears that extremists may harness the discontent to further destabilise Pakistan’s embattled government, or that unhappiness with relief efforts could fan social unrest.

“I stand before you as the voice of 20 million Pakistanis devastated by the floods,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the meeting in New York.

“The massive upheaval caused by the floods and the economic losses suffered by the millions of Pakistanis must be addressed urgently. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.”

The nuclear-armed nation of 167 million is a top US foreign policy priority due to concerns over Islamist extremism.

Washington says its porous border with Afghanistan provides cover for militants to attack US-led troops fighting a nine-year insurgency there.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is also locked in battle with homegrown Taliban who have been blamed over a three-year bombing campaign that has killed more than 3,570 people.

In a poignant video message to the meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged generosity, saying: “This is a defining moment — not only for Pakistan, but for all of us.”

Clinton raised US aid to 150 million dollars, while Britain said it planned to double its contribution to more than 99 million dollars.

Eight million flood survivors in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.

In the southern province of Sindh, eight people, including four children, have died from skin and stomach diseases in the last three days, local government spokesman Jamil Soomro said Friday.

In central province Punjab, which together with Sindh are the most densely populated parts of Pakistan and the country’s agricultural backbone, officials said water levels were going down and some key roads reopening.

Suhail Chaudhry, administration chief of the Layyah district, said people were returning to partially damaged homes. “We expect more will leave in large numbers over the next 2-3 days,” he said.

The floods wiped out villages, farmland and infrastructure, and UN aid coordination body OCHA said more than 650,000 homeless families were still without basic shelter.

At camps for the displaced from across the country, survivors are battling with crippling heat, miserable sanitation and swarms of mosquitoes.

Many fled their homes with just the clothes on their backs and have been forced to drink contaminated water, causing diarrhoea and heightening fears over outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne diseases.

At a camp in Sukkur, Sindh province, women and children queued patiently for a cooked meal — dished out from vats in the back of a truck — while others waited for basic medical care at a makeshift clinic.

Qureshi put the economic damage of the floods at 43 million dollars and the Financial Times reported Friday that Pakistan would ask the International Monetary Fund to restructure a 10.5 billion dollar loan agreed in 2008.

Islamabad has concluded that it is now impossible for it to meet the conditions of the lending programme agreed in 2008, the paper quoted Pakistani officials as saying.

The Asian Development Bank has said it will give two billion dollars to repair roads, bridges, power lines, homes, schools, medical facilities and farm structures, and the World Bank has promised to lend 900 million dollars.