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Fire crisis in Europe seems far from over

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Opinion

Fire crisis in Europe seems far from over

European Union demands environmental protection in emerging countries but “allows” fires in Europe. Writes Lucas Leiroz

Europe is in a situation of humanitarian catastrophe. The fires that have erupted across the continent this summer have already killed more than a thousand people, in addition to destroying local forests and devastating fauna and flora. The most affected countries are France, Portugal and Spain, but there are also fires in Croatia, Greece, UK, among others. Interestingly, there is absolute silence on the part of the EU and other international organizations that routinely demand protective environmental measures from emerging countries in similar cases.

The fire crisis in Europe seems far from over. In France, more than 12,000 people were displaced from their homes and about 9,000 hectares of forest were burned in two fires that started on July 12 in the Gironde region, in the southwest of the country. In another fire, in La Teste de Buch, 3,150 hectares of forest were destroyed in the same period. Several houses and buildings were absolutely ruined by the flames. Due to weather conditions and to avoid any fire risk, many French cities have decided to cancel the use of fireworks on 14th of July, which is a traditional practice on Bastille Day. Departments in the south of France such as the Gard, Alpes-Maritimes and Bouches du Rhône, have been the most affected by the fires.

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In Spain, the situation is also disastrous. According to data from the Carlos III Health Institute, 829 people died in the country during the month of June due to high temperatures. A few hundred more have died this July as summer temperatures soared further. In some regions thermometers reached 46 °C. In addition, the fires also affect the country severely. In southern Spain, close to the Costa del Sol region, around 2,300 people had to flee a fire that erupted in the hills of Mijas.

In Portugal, the Ministry of Health said on the night of Saturday, July 16, that 659 people died due to the heat wave in the last seven days, most of them elderly. He also said that the peak of the week was 440 deaths on Thursday, the 14th, when temperatures reached the mark of 47 degrees at a weather station in the district of Vizeu, in the central region of the country. Portugal has already lost more than 30,000 hectares due to the fires. In the border region with Spain, fire control seems even more difficult. In northern Portugal, a pilot died after the crash of a plane that was helping to fight fires in the region of Foz Côa, near the Spanish border.

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In the UK, chaos also seems to be taking over the country due to the heat and fire. In London, fires even reached the train stations between Wandsworth Road and Victoria, making a considerable part of the London’s railway unusable. The British government held an extraordinary meeting over the weekend in order to coordinate the response to the high temperatures. There are expectations that this month of July will be surpassed the British temperature record, which is 38.7°C, documented in 2019.

The heat and fires also affect other parts of the European continent, such as Croatia, where three large forest fires devastated areas of preserved forest in the regions of Zadar and Sibenik. In the same sense, Greece lost large portions of native vegetation area, mainly on the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea. In the same place, there was an accident with a helicopter that was being mobilized to fight the fire – the entire staff died at the time.

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The Western media has regarded the European case as a “consequence of climate change”, which is undoubtedly true to some extent. However, the irresponsibility of governments to contain the environmental effects of the crisis has remained absolutely ignored. It is known that high temperatures – which are typical of summer – generate natural fires, whose effects are normally controlled. The problem is that this increase in the climate crisis is nothing new for Europe. The continent has been experiencing a growing heat wave every year and preventive measures should be in the plans of local governments to prevent the situation from becoming an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

The very absence of preventive measures, in the face of forecasts of temperature increase, should be reason enough to consider the attitude of European governments as negligent, but in addition there are even suspicions that some of the fires were caused by human hands. For example, French police is investigating the possibility that the fire in Gironde was caused by local citizens. It is common that at this time of year fires caused by people reach devastating proportions due to the high temperatures. Knowing the weather conditions, European governments should have worked seriously to prevent this, which did not happen.

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In fact, when the same situation occurs in emerging countries, the EU demands protective measures, imposes sanctions and generates diplomatic instability. Meanwhile, developed countries like Australia, the UK and European states seem to have “carte blanche” to act irresponsibly with the environment. In Brazil, for example, it is known that natural forest fires occur in the summer, but the EU annually criticizes the Brazilian government’s stance on the phenomenon, demanding that preventive measures be taken to prevent fires from creating environmental impacts. Now, when the same case happens in Europe, nothing is said by the EU, lacking self-criticism.

Once again, problems in the “developed world” clearly expose Western environmental hypocrisy. For the West, only developing countries must protect the environment, while rich nations are exempt from this.

Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

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