Many people ask themselves why Portugal is plagued by more wildfires than larger countries in Europe, which is as much as half of the total acreage lost to flames across the rest of the European Union, writes Jay Fernandes.
As consequence of the social and economic transformation that took place in Portugal over the last 50 years, when it joined the European Community, Portugal become one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe, most of the land privately owned.
The exposure to the European economic globalization led to the demise of the traditional agriculture, with the younger generation migrating to the cities, to benefit from job opportunities and better education , resulting in the depopulation of remote villages and fewer farmers cultivating the fields.
The traditional farming communities of grapes, olives and cork vanished and the land was sold off to the forest industry companies, the outcome being that many wooded areas became untended and fewer farm animals grazed on otherwise flammable underbrush.
Eucalyptus and gum trees now cover a quarter of all forested land in Portugal fetching very lucrative crops for paper and pulp industry, making the country largest producer and exporter of eucalyptus pulp in Europe.
The downside is that eucalyptus burn faster and hotter, making wildfires harder to control , unlike no other trees they endure fire and grow up again like no other plant.
Successive governments have tried to create laws to control the areas of eucalyptus plantations but the paper industry is fighting any legislation which would cost thousands of jobs and hurt Portugal’s economy.
Another important cause of the recent uncontrolled wildfires is that 65 % of Portugal is facing one the worst droughts in consecutive years , combined with the intense heat wave ever recorded high temperatures in excess of 40 °C (104 °F) , which preceded the fires.
Strategies of prevention, such as controlled burning and establishment of fire breaks has not been comprehensively implemented because there is lack of manpower in the villages of the interior of the country with predominating elderly population.
A sinister angle to this panorama is that most wildfires have started and reactivated during the night, which points to a “criminal hand” that may have been behind the deadly flames that have raged through central Portugal.
All these are unfortunate ingredients that make Portugal highly vulnerable to long blazing Summers.
The Portuguese Government has recently declared the situation a National Calamity which grants powers to the executive to activate legislative mechanisms and to coordinate civil and militarized resources to try to face the present serious circumstances in the country.
Reproduced with kind permission of Jay Fernandes
Original article appeared on the Senhor Cabo website http://senhorcabo.com/