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Worries for Nigeria, other developing nations as wildfire rages in Europe

By Victor Gbonegun
12 September 2022   |   4:16 am
The unabated wildfire and other climate-related risks across Europe and some parts of developing countries are posing existential crises for humans' and businesses' survival.

Wildfire in Southwestern France PHOTO: AP

59,541 hectares of land consumed in eight months
• Africa may be vulnerable to wildfire, say experts

The unabated wildfire and other climate-related risks across Europe and some parts of developing countries are posing existential crises for humans’ and businesses’ survival.

The environmental disaster is also consuming more of governments’ attention and resources, as increasing hot weather conditions, human behaviour and poor handling of fossil fuels contribute to the dangerous wildfire season.

Although, developing nations like Nigeria have not recorded this disaster in great proportion, however, environmentalists are worried about frequent occurrences now or in the future. They warned that global temperatures are expected to get warmer than current levels and severe droughts occur more frequently, and tas hotter seasons may be prolonged in many ecosystems.

The year 2021 and 2022 saw record-breaking catastrophic disasters in all corners of the world as about 10,000 people lost their lives, and an estimated $280 million was incurred in damages. Extreme fires in Europe destroyed homes and threatened livelihoods in the first half of 2022. Nine countries including Croatia, Czech, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Russia and Spain have been heavily impacted.

In North America, Canada and the United States were not spared as California and Arizona witnessed severe bushfires. Also in South America, Argentina recorded one of its largest wildfire disasters.

Africa has also had its share of the incident as blazes killed about 36 people in August, in Algeria. Fires in the mountainous region of Al Taref ravaged around 14,010 acres of vegetation. In Morocco, four provinces of Larache, Ouezzane, Tetouane and Taza, were consumed by a wildfire burning nearly 5,000 acres, and displacing thousands of people, killing one person.

In a recent report, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal, predicted that climate change and land-use change are projected to make wildfires “more frequent and intense,” with a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14 per cent by 2030, 30 per cent by the end of 2050 and 50 per cent by the end of the century.

The unabated wildfire and other climate-related risks across Europe and some parts of developing countries are posing existential crises for humans’ and businesses’ survival.

Findings revealed that in Europe, an estimated 85 per cent of the total burned land area in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain is due to wildfires, while extreme fires have had significant ecological and socio-economic impacts in British Columbia, China in 1987; in Portugal in 2003, 2005 and 2017; in Spain in 2006 and 2017; in Greece in 2007 and 2018; in Italy in 2007; in Australia in 2009 and 2020; in the United States in 2013 and 2017; and in Canada and Chile in 2016.

The lead author and Deputy Director, University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Dr. Zita Sebesvari, in a United Nations (UN) risk report released last week Wednesday, said disasters occurring in completely different parts of the world at first appear disconnected from one another, but when analysed in more details, it quickly becomes clear that they are caused by the same things like greenhouse gas emissions or unsustainable consumption.

While Nigeria is faced with environmental disasters like flooding, pollution, landslides, tidal waves, coastal erosion, sandstorms, and dust storms, the majority of wildfires in Nigeria are caused by human activities.

The President, the Nigerian Environmental Society (NES), Dr Dorothy Bassey, said wildfire incidents in Europe are a wake up call for Nigerians and developing nations to change the way they interact with nature and the indiscriminate use of resources.

The wildfires, she said, are a result of an increase in temperature, which scientists have noted for years. However, she explained that because the temperature increase is little, the world did not take it seriously.

“There are no boundaries when it comes to issues of environment and no walls separating Africa from Europe. Eventually, Africa may be vulnerable, although, it is not happening now. We have now seen a compound effect of it, which means every increase from the past adds up as the year rolls by. Still people are not appreciating the fact that non-regard for our activities is dangerous for the environment,” Bassey said.

Bassey said developing nations must limit emissions by reducing the number of vehicles on the road and deploying more environmentally friendly mass transportation, limiting emissions from generators and engines, which contribute to the depletion of the Ozone layer, a protective cover for the earth.

She said: “What is happening in Europe is also happening in developing countries. We have seen floods in Pakistan, which have killed over 1,100 people and displaced millions. That is really devastating because no one prepares for it. People need to feel concerned because many of these incidents don’t give warnings.

Associate Research Professor, Climate Change Studies and Environmental Education, Lagos State University, (LASU), Ahovi Michael, explained that wildfires across parts of Europe signal the effect of climate, adding that this will continue to evolve time after time.

Michael, who works at the University’s Centre for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development (CESSED) said: “The impact of climate change varies from place to place and what we are seeing in Europe is the lot for that region as regards climate change. Higher temperatures fuel wild winds and is basically stimulating the spread of the fire. The high temperature causes the vegetation to be very dry and flammable. At another instance, a flint dropped along such a path, like the cap of a cigarette stuffed could eventually cause the wildfire.”

He said the risks, that the development poses across the world include loss of properties, human injuries, loss of wildlife, air pollution, respiratory challenges, loss of soil humus and loss of vegetation, especially rare flora.

An environmentalist, Prof. Francis Arimoro, pointed out that when the weather becomes so hot as a result of climate change, it results in wildfire naturally caused by lightning and volcanic incidents.

The Dean of Life Sciences, Animal and Environmental Biology, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Arimoro, said: “We need to re-examine our activities and stop what could increase the extreme climate conditions.”

“Our level of anthropogenic activities must be reduced to the barest minimum, like burning of fossil fuel and others. If it were reduced, the impact on the environment would be drastically reduced.

“There was a climate change conference in Denmark recently and how countries could stand out, prepare and begin to ameliorate the extreme weather conditions were discussed. When temperatures increase above normal, the water body gets heated up, ice begins to melt and you have flooding.”

Arimoro said it behoves the government and citizens to be proactive, and act before Nigeria records the unforeseen circumstances. The government, he said, should put in place emergency units in ministries, while officials must be proactive and be able to give timely predictions/information for wildfire outbreaks or other disasters.

Bassey also corroborated Arimoro by advocating development of contingency plans and activation of such plans by indicating roles for critical stakeholders and testing the preparedness of each key player in the plan.