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Europe | Wildfires Information Bulletin 2 (13 August 2021)

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This bulletin is being issued for information only and reflects the current situation and details available as 13 August. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has already allocated CHF 208,000 from its Disaster Relief and Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the Italian Red Cross in its response to affected households in Sardinia and is in close contact with the Red Cross of North Macedonia for DREF support. IFRC is closely monitoring the situation and is in close contact with affected National Societies to identify any need for support. At this point IFRC is not seeking funding or other assistance from donors for this operation, at the same time strongly encourages all interested parties to contribute to DREF replenishment. Also, National Societies might accept direct assistance to provide support to the affected population. In case you wish to offer any kind of support, please consult IFRC Regional Office for Europe Partnerships and Resource Development Team.

The situation – overview

The Mediterranean region is currently experiencing its worst heatwave in decades, while the fire outbreak since July has continued to spread to more countries and to burn larger areas, the firefighting operations are mobilizing additional resources in attempts to contain the fires. According to a European Commission press release, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism continues to channel support to help combat unprecedented forest fires in Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean. Following requests from Greece, North Macedonia, Albania, Italy and Turkey, the European Union has now helped mobilize 14 firefighting planes, 3 helicopters, some 1,300 rescuers and 250 vehicles. In Greece alone, 9 planes, close to 1,000 firefighters and 200 vehicles are currently engaged in responding to the wildfires. In Siberia, so far almost 23 million acres have burnt down; resulting in one of the biggest climate-related challenges this year for the country. The most devastating situation is reported to have occurred in Greece; the fires in North Macedonia and Italy remain alarming, while Turkey has managed to put out almost 300 fires.

With the mobilization of European efforts, such as firefighting planes and thousands of volunteers, several fires were successfully contained in Albania, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece and Turkey, but many are still active despite continuous work. Even though there have been human casualties, the majority of people are suffering from minor injuries, though the psychological effects are yet unknown, and the loss of livelihoods will have a long-lasting socioeconomic impact on affected households. In Greece, many fear that the destruction of the mountainous region around Athens will lead to further temperature increase and leave citizens unprotected from floods in the near future.

Wildfires have been present every year in the Mediterranean, to some extent as important elements of a functioning of ecosystem. However, the fires this year have destroyed excessive forest areas and other ecosystems, which will take years to recover. Industries that depend on forests in the Europe region (wood, paper, fuel) may also be severely impacted if the fires continue to increase in intensity and frequency. Desertification, especially in Southern Europe, can be another long-term consequence of excessive wildfires. It would lead to significant loss of agricultural production, affecting hundreds of thousands of households and adding to food shortages. According to the European Forest Fire Information System, the number of fires in 2021 largely exceeded previous year averages.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies have been providing their support since the onset of the wildfires. Their main activities consist of first aid, the distribution of life saving items including food, water, and livestock fodder, as well as hygiene kits, clothing, vehicles and psychosocial assistance. Other international actors have also mobilized their resources (firefighting planes and other vehicles, financial support) in an effort to extinguish the fires and ease the effects on affected population.