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Deadly combination highlighted by wildfires

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 23 August 2010

Preveli Crete

Analysis of catastrophic wildfires in Russia and Greece has highlighted a deadly combination of climate change impacts and the neglect of forest management, WWF organizations in the two fire prone countries said today.

In the joint statement, WWF-Russia and WWF-Greece said the catastrophic wildfires that hit Russia during the first two weeks of August awoke the memories of the tragic Greek “black summer” of 2007. Fires have now flared up in Greece, where the national budgetary crisis has seen fire defences downgraded.

“Although the weather did not favour mega-wildfires during June and July, as the 2010 summer ends Greeks witness once more the dramatic ecological consequences of forest fires,” said Demetres Karavellas, Director of WWF Greece.

“Yesterday, we lost to the flames one of the most important forest ecosystems in the Mediterranean, the rare and endemic palm forest of Preveli in Crete.”

Key factors turning wildfire into wildfire disaster

The analysis of key contributing factors that turn wildfire into wildfire catastrophe included gaps in national forest legislation, understaffed and under-equipped forest management and fire suppression authorities, little emphasis on cost effective preventative measures and poor mobilization of public support for forest protection.

“According to the official data, this summer about 1 million hectares of forests were burnt, 14 natural protected areas of federal importance are burning at this very moment, at least 127 villages turned into ashes and 52 people were killed because of forest fires,” said Dr Evgeny Shvarts, Conservation Policy Director for WWF Russia..

“According to rough estimations, the fires released something like the annual carbon emissions of Germany into the atmosphere to aggravate climate change.

“Most of forests and villages destroyed by fire were located in the most heavily populated European part of Russia, where forests have a special social and ecological value.

“This catastrophic situation roots in recent thoughtless administrative reforms of forest management, resulted in decreasing of federal control over forest resources planning and use, elimination of the federal forest rangers service and decreasing of specialized forest fires monitoring and fire fighting centres’ potential.

“We believe that urgent measures are needed by the Government of Russia to revise results of the forest management reforms made since the year 2000.”

Deadly gaps

A similar message is now coming from Greece as the threat of end of summer fires rapidly worsens.

“The financial crisis that looms over Greece has resulted in decimating the already scant funding for forest management and protection,” said Demetres Karavellas, Director of WWF Greece.

“The memory of the tragic summer of 2007, when over 270 thousand hectares of precious Mediterranean forest land was burnt and over 80 human lives were lost, should teach us that the cost of prevention and integrated management is always a cheaper and more effective solution, compared to the real cost of environmental crises, such as wildfires.”

The two branches of WWF called on their governments to address numerous and deadly serious gaps in the national forest legislation.

“Forests need to be managed and protected primarily as vulnerable ecosystems, which are vital for human survival through climate change and not as land offered for easy profit,” they said.

Emphasis should be put on prevention, rather than fire suppression. Integrated management of forests as dynamic ecosystems throughout the year is cheaper and more effective, than the army of aerial and land-based fire fighting means needed to combat mega wildfires.

“Public participation and constant alert is crucial securing a better future for forests,” WWF said. “Volunteer fire-combating teams and organized social mobilization has on numerous occasions averted forest disasters.”

Source: WWF

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