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Friday, 31 August 2012

Wildfires and Drought: The Climate is Changing

Bédar, Spain on Sunday 26 August 2012

Bédar, Spain on Sunday 26 August 2012
This summer’s news coverage was again full of hundreds of wildfires around the world.  Spain, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Italy, Greece and many other countries faced again the catastrophe of wildfires.

Every year we face the same problem - summer and then wildfires.  Accidental wildfires, wildfires set by arsonists.  And the consequences are severe - forests are lost, flora and fauna become extinct, people lose their homes, their lives…

In Spain last weekend people were evacuated from as the countryside burned around their homes.  Hopefully there were no any injuries.  Sustainability Consult CEO, Kathryn Sheridan, who was in the town of Bédar in the southern province of Almeria that weekend, was caught up by in the wildfire and subsequent evacuation.  This summer was the worst summer for fires in a decade in Spain.  Overall, 149,300 hectares of forest and countryside have been lost in more than 11,650 wildfires.

All these are signs that the climate is changing.  Drought leaves the countryside and vegetation bone dry so that wildfires are more likely.  Wildfires increase temperatures and dry conditions as forests and vegetation disappear.  And then drought follows.  There is not enough water for farmers to cultivate, for plants to grow, for people and animals to survive.  Then there is a knock-on effect on food prices and availability.  Nature is changing.

And yet, governments seem to be going backwards on climate change.  They make statements but seem to avoid any decision-making.  In Greece there is not enough money to pay the fire service.  They cut staff and use old vehicles and leave the forests and their inhabitants defenseless in the face of fire.  Even the public does not pay attention.  In the last decade, 41% of fires were caused by people, either on purpose or through a lack of knowledge on how to avoid causing a wildfire.

How long until politicians and the general public join the dots between drought, fires and climate change and take steps to improve the situation?  Until they do, we will be facing more stories like the one from Almeria this weekend.

Blog by Aris Koutentakis

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