The Mediterranean region is facing a series of devastating wildfires that have killed dozens of people, forced thousands to evacuate, and threatened the tourism industry and the biodiversity of the area. The fires have been fuelled by a record-breaking heatwave that has gripped the region for more than a week, with temperatures soaring above 40°C (104°F) in some places.
Algeria hit hardest by the flames
The worst-hit country by the wildfires is Algeria, where at least 42 people have died, including 10 soldiers who were deployed to help fight the flames. The fires have ravaged more than 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) of land, mostly in the mountainous northern region of Kabylie, where many villages have been reduced to ashes. The Algerian authorities have blamed arsonists for some of the fires, and have arrested several suspects. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
Greece struggles to contain multiple blazes
Greece is also battling multiple blazes across the country, especially on the islands of Rhodes, Evia, and Crete. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and resorts, as the fires have destroyed houses, forests, and crops. The Greek government has declared a state of emergency on Rhodes, where the entire island has been affected by the flames. Two pilots died when their water-bombing plane crashed on Evia, where a massive fire has been burning for six days. The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has apologized for the failures in handling the crisis, and has promised to compensate the victims and restore the damaged areas.
France and Italy face tourism losses
France and Italy are also facing severe wildfires that have forced evacuations and disrupted tourism in some of their most popular destinations. In France’s southwestern Gironde region, more than 16,000 people have been evacuated from campsites and villages, as fires have scorched 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of land. The fires have also damaged a historic church in Palermo and a convent in Bordeaux. In Italy’s southern regions of Sicily and Puglia, thousands of people have fled from their homes and hotels, as fires have ravaged olive groves, vineyards, and natural reserves. The Italian authorities have blamed arsonists for some of the fires, and have arrested several suspects.
Climate change increases fire risk
The Mediterranean wildfires are a stark reminder of the impact of climate change on the region, which is one of the most vulnerable to global warming. According to a recent report by the World Weather Attribution group, this month’s intense heatwave in Southern Europe would have been virtually impossible without human-induced climate change. The report also warned that such extreme heat events are becoming more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting as the world warms up. This increases the risk of droughts, water shortages, and wildfires that threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, as well as the rich biodiversity and cultural heritage of the Mediterranean.