Recent Wildfires in the Arab World
By Evan Ploeckelman / Arab America Contributing Writer
Wildfires have been headlining the news in recent weeks, with massive wildfires erupting in places like Siberia, the western and northern United States, Greece, and Turkey. While wildfires are a natural occurrence that can be caused by abnormal weather, poor management of wildland areas, or just bad luck, they have been occurring with increasing frequency due to climate change, which has brought about higher temperatures and drier weather to many parts of the world. The Arab World is no exception, and many Arab countries from Morocco to Algeria to Lebanon have experienced fierce blazes as a result of these changes.
Some of the worst blazes in the Arab World are currently occurring in Algeria, specifically in the northeast region of Kabylia, specifically around Tizi Ouzou. In fact, of the 100 fires currently active in Algeria, 38 of them are in the Tizi Ouzou region. These fires have been fueled by high temperatures of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit, 12.5 mile an hour winds, large expanses of dry forest, and no rain predicted in the forecast. As of August 13th, 69 people have lost their lives in these fires, including 28 military personnel.
Many Algerians, though, have grown frustrated at the Algerian government for their lack of guidance during these fires, which has forced local volunteers to take up leadership roles in terms of evacuating from the fires. “Since yesterday, we have not seen a single police officer or gendarme!” a young volunteer named Fethi said, as he directed congested traffic in and out of his village, Beni Douala. “The only things we have seen are the helicopters above and firefighters, but no one came and instructed or helped us evacuate.”
The President of Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, claimed that the fires were caused by arsonists and announced that 22 people were arrested on arson charges, including 11 in Tizi Ouzou. However, no evidence has been presented in these cases, leading to criticism against the Algerian government for perpetuating a culture of paranoia. In fact, this paranoia has led to the deaths of innocent people, such as Djamel Bensmail, a musical artist who came to volunteer but was murdered by a mob on suspicion of arson.
On Thursday, August 12th, Algeria declared three days of national mourning as a result of the fires raveging the country. The nation has also received aid from both Morocco and France in quelling the fires, but because most other nations in the EU are focused on the fires in Greece and Italy, aid from other European nations has been nearly nonexistent. Hopefully, the aid will help the Algerians threatened by the fires.
Lebanon and Syria
Fires have also been burning across the pine forests of Northern Lebanon, in the Akkar Province, and across the border in Syria, in the Homs Province. Despite the efforts of the Lebanese Army and Syrian Army, the fires continued to burn. The armies themselves were hindered due to bad winds and weather, they have been unsuccessful at controlling these fires. As of the beginning of August, one person, a 15 year old volunteering to help put the fires out, has died in the blazes in Lebanon. The last time the region experienced large wildfires was in October 2019, when the fires reached an area just outside of Beirut. While these fires are further away from Lebanon’s major cities, the fires are still threatening villages and forcing evacuations in the area.
Unlike Algeria, Lebanon and Syria have received less aid. Lebanon has asked nearby Cyprus for aid, but Cyprus has unfortunately been dealing with its own wildfires, along with providing aid to other EU nations. Both countries have also been dealing with their own internal issues, with the economic collapse in Lebanon and the remnants of the civil war in Syria. These issues have somewhat impeded the quelling of the wildfires, but hopefully time can aid the Lebanese and Syrian forces in stopping the fires.
While some of the damage done by the wildfires can be attributed to the governments of said nations, the reason these fires are able to have the destructive capacity that they displayed is due to the effects of climate change. We need to remember that our actions here do cause significant damage to areas around the world, including the Arab world.
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