September 15, 2023
Long-term recovery underway in the Mediterranean following widespread fires
Aftermath of the wildfire in Sicily
With the elements of strong wind, high temperatures and trees, a rampage of wildfires formed in the Mediterranean in July.
It took just 12 days for the total burnt area to reach 135,000 hectares (521 square miles) in four countries in the region. Italy, North Africa and Greece are now recovering from this disastrous fire.
One of the first islands in the Mediterranean to be hit by the wildfires was Greece on July 17. This was one of the biggest attacks this year, with over 80 wildfires that ascended to burn down Greece. It injured 78 people, killed 28 and displaced at least 21,500 people. Temperatures in Greece reached 45°C during the raging of the fires.
One of those many islands is Algeria. The fire began on July 24, in the north-eastern region of Algeria. There were around 35 wildfires that affected many regions in Algeria as well as it has impacted around 6,000 families, injured thousands and has killed 34 people.
With crops and livestock having been burnt, many families starved, and communities drowned in chaos.
The predominant weather condition is still the main cause of these wildfires, as the temperature exceeded 45°C, the humidity was low and the wind speed was around 50 km/h in the Tunisian border, which speedily expanded the wildfire.
Two days after Algeria was caught on fire, Tunis in Tunisia was entangled in flames. On July 26 the Tunisian Interior Minister said Tunisian firefighters were able to completely contain the outpouring of fires with the help of the Algerian Army and firefighter planes from Spain.
Even with the fire being under control, many people still couldn’t escape the burnt down buildings- one died by smoke inhalation while 170 people were hospitalized to recover injuries acquired.
Not only were people affected by the blazing fire and the severe heatwave but it also had “a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy and water supplies,” reported Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation.
With the economy, agriculture and water supplies being affected, people who are living in Tunisia are having a hard time and are still going to have a harder time in the future with decreasing amounts of water and food.
Another island that was caught on fire one day before Tunisia was Sicily. Italian firefighters battled 650 fires in the area which took three civilian lives.
On Tuesday, July 25, Palermo Airport was forced to shut down due to a nearby wildfire with winds carrying a massive amount of ashes covering the sky.
I recently visited the Mediterranean on a family holiday in August and spoke with a local about the impact of the fires in the area and what he saw.
Matthew, a crew member of a yacht on the Mediterranean sea, shared how he saw smoke covering the sky near Sicily. “We had thick smoke coming through … it was like a hair dryer blowing in front of your face,” he said.
Others shared their experiences on social media, saying how the air was polluted and was affecting people on both land and sea.
On August 7, Sardinia was also hit by wildfires. The fires were in the east side of Sardinia, at Cagliari and Nuoro Provinces. There were more than 50 wildfires and over 1,100 firefighters and 14 water carrying aircrafts had tried to contain one fire in the Castelo Branco area from spreading.
Almost 600 people and residents were evacuated from resorts and houses on the east coast of Sardinia and four were killed during the rampage of the wildfire.
Posada’s town councillor Giorgio Fresu, who was quoted by local media, said: “The wind is blowing so strongly that it’s not a fair fight.” With a combination of strong winds, fires and heatwaves, Sardinia did not stand a chance against Mother Nature.
Overall, the wildfires that happened in the Mediterranean mostly affected the GDP of some of the islands; mostly the amount of tourists going to the islands.
Tourism and agriculture plays a big part in the GDP of these countries and islands. As the fires scare tourists and burn fields and forests, agriculture and tourism is declining which also decreases the GDP of the countries.
Many hoteliers in the Mediterranean are hesitant about the upcoming years with tourists arriving at their hotel. “If heats waves were to be repeated every summer, the impact on our economy would be significant,” said Antonio Mayor, chair of the hotels and tourism association in the Valencia Region.
LIFE projects aim to reduce wildfires across European countries and are now trialing new and innovative ways to both prevent devastating fires and researching methods to recover burnt soil and vegetation.
LIFE LANDSCAPE FIRE for example recommends goats to roam free in order to feed on the dry grass and shrubs commonly being set alight during the heatwaves in Portugal and Spain.