Friday | 23 Feb 2024

Climate Crisis worsens as Wildfires sweep the southern Mediterranean

The summer holiday season across large parts of the Mediterranean continues to be blighted by deadly wildfires, blazing a trail across the region.

Out-of-control fires have struck in areas as far afield as the Canary Islands to Turkey and across North Africa. Presently, there seems no end in sight to the extreme temperatures and dry, wind-fanned weather conditions.

  • The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of further heatwaves, crop failures, droughts, rising seas and influxes of invasive species.
  • Scientists rank the Mediterranean region as a climate crisis “hot spot.”
  • The EU has deployed assistance to support threatened lives and ecosystems after Greece and Tunisia activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
  • Ten countries are contributing to the EU’s “wildfire response” initiatives.

In particular, the Greek mainland and its Islands have and continue to suffer from what has been described as inferno-like conditions, with local residents and tourists being forced to flee for their lives.

On Rhodes, around 20,000 people have had to evacuate, with fires reaching coastal resorts. It’s been a similar story on Corfu, where 2500 people have been offered emergency shelter. Helicopters have been scooping out seawater, in an attempt to quell the fires.

On the Island of Evia, two Greek air force pilots were killed when the plane they were flying crashed in recent days during a low-altitude water drop. Tributes have been paid to them in Athens by senior members of the Armed Forces.

A series of huge wildfire-induced explosions were set off at an airforce ammunition depot in the centre of the country, forcing the evacuation of a number of F-16 fighter jets. A section of Greece’s busiest highway was forced to close for several hours, due to the proximity of fires, in turn causing disruption to national rail services.

The EU disaster response agency has also announced that it would be despatching two more French firefighting planes to the worst hit areas of Greece.

“In the face of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean which is a climate change hot spot, there is no magical defence mechanism,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “If there was, we would have implemented it,” he added.

Spain, Turkey, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, France, Algeria and Tunisia all suffering

In Spain, forest areas greater than the size of Madrid have been lost. This year to date, the Spanish blazes account for over 50% of the land affected by wildfires across the whole EU. Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza are now on red alert.

In Turkey, hundreds of wildfires have been burning – a third more than were recorded during the same period last year, according to the country’s President.

Italian firefighters reported nearly 1400 incidents in late July in Sicily and the Calabria region. Palermo airport was forced to close temporarily due to the fires. Meanwhile, extreme weather of a different kind has hit northern Italy. Violent storms have torn off roofs, uprooted trees and left 100 people injured after being pelted with tennis ball-sized hailstones.

Croatian firefighters are tackling fires on the Balkan Peninsula, near the ancient city of Dubrovnik and in Split-Dalmatia. Efforts are not only being hampered by winds but there is further danger from unexploded landmines going off, remnants of the war there in the 1990s.

In Portugal, more than 600 firefighters, aided by local residents, battled to extinguish flames sweeping across the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park near the popular tourist destination of Cascais.

In France, blazes have been reported in the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie, Grand Est, Bouches-Du-Rhone and on the island of Corsica. Amid low ground-water levels, France is said to be set for an even worse drought than last year.

In Algeria, temperatures reaching 49 degrees Celsius have been recorded and wildfires, encouraged by high winds, have killed at least 34 people. In the region of 8000 firefighters have been mobilised. Similar extreme temperatures have been experienced in neighbouring Tunisia, with fires raging through 450 hectares of dense pine forest near the coastal town of Tabarka. Tourists have been told to stay away from the area.

“Substantially higher” carbon emissions

Meanwhile, an EU satellite data monitoring agency has reported that wildfire carbon emissions for July in Greece were substantially higher than anything previously recorded. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said emissions totalled more than one metric megaton – twice the level of any previous reading since records began 20 years ago.

A senior agency scientist said: “Unfortunately, it is not all that surprising, given the extreme conditions in the region. The observed intensity and estimated emissions show how unusual the scale of the fires has been for July, relative to the last 20 years of data.”

Summing up the situation, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis, said: “Without doubt, we can see that all across the Mediterranean the climate crisis is here and it’s affecting us all more strongly than perhaps even scientists had warned us about.”

Wildfires tear through Mediterranean tourist hot spots – DW – 07/26/2023

Wildfire in Greece triggers explosions at an ammunition depot and the relocation of fighter jets | Euronews