LETTER: Live exports vital in more ways than one

Sir – The violent eruption of Krakatoa on 27 August 1883, just west of Java, hurled some 20 cubic km of rock and ash into the sky, and the dust encircled the world prompting a drop in temperatures.
Yet Krakatoa was dwarfed by the eruption of Mt. Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa in April 1815. The largest observed volcanic eruption in recorded history, Tambora ejected over 50 cubic km of rock and ash skywards in an explosion equal to an 800 megaton bomb (800 million tons of TNT).
The atom bomb that leveled Hiroshima, by contrast, was a mere 20 kiloton blast (20,000 tons of TNT).
Tambora’s effect on the Earth’s climate was dramatic, the direct cause of the “Year without Summer” of 1816 in the northern hemisphere which led to the worst famine of the 19th century.
No volcanoes of this magnitude erupted in the Indonesian archipelago during the 20th century; the closest was Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 – a comparative baby.
Indonesia has the world’s largest concentration of volcanoes, and no method exists of advance warning of the next major eruption.
When such an eruption eventually does occur, the direct consequences for Indonesia and neighbouring countries is likely to be severe. In the 19th century Krakatoa and Tambora each killed many tens of thousands of people; and Krakatoa also caused enormous damage from the tsunamis it generated.
Today the populations of Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries are far larger than in the 1800s, and there is little margin for error should food production in this region be disrupted by a catastrophic eruption.
It’s for this reason I think Indonesia’s quest for greater independent food production to the exclusion of outside sources, such as the live cattle trade with northern Australia, is fraught with risk.
Australia is best placed to provide massive emergency food aid should such a catastrophe occur but this is contingent upon the industry and infrastructure being in place to cater for this emergency.
It follows that a flourishing food export industry from north Australia, such as the live cattle trade, should be considered as a key component for insuring the long term food security of Indonesia and our other northern neighbours.
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs

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