The phrase “unprecedented” became a common description repeated year after year, whether it meant forest fires or droughts and floods, from which no area was spared. It is as if the world is witnessing records breaking in disasters, rivaling records in sports, with the human losses it causes and billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure and property. What we consider “unprecedented” today will be “unprecedented” a year from now.
It is true that these natural disasters, in their scale and frequency, are largely due to the effects of climate change. But it is also true that one of its main causes is a failure in planning, from land use to the management of forests, water and natural resources in general. Therefore, it is not permissible to stand and wait for the required reduction in carbon emissions to limit rising temperatures and face climate change. The title of climate change has turned into an excuse behind which some officials hide to justify default, as if they have no power or power to prevent the deterioration. In many cases, work is almost limited to preparing to deal with disasters after they occur, such as spending large budgets on firefighting equipment, such as cars, aircraft and advanced equipment, while planning and training are neglected.
Forest fires will increase, but the Arab region will not be spared. It will not be the last time that the forests of Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan will be consumed by fire, or the water from rivers and underground wells will dry up, from the Maghreb to the East and the Nile Valley to the Golf. Nor will it be a passing event that the temperature in Basra will reach the maximum recorded on earth, as happened early this month. All this requires a rapid shift from disaster management to resource management, according to integrated scientific programs, in addition to the development of proactive plans to face emergency situations, starting with their prediction before they occur.
One of the basic measures in forest management is not just one species, but the planting of several types of trees. Some trees are more susceptible to drought and more susceptible to fire, which helps fire spread quickly over large areas. The diversity of forest trees also helps in the fight against diseases and harmful insects, such as the “Christ worm”, which marches in herds, hitting oak trees after building their nests in them. In addition to killing trees, this poisonous hairy worm has a dangerous effect on humans, as it causes fatal injuries to the eyes and respiratory system. Oak spread over vast areas across Europe, for its ease of cultivation and rapid growth, parallel to the neglect of other species. The spread of the poisonous worm has been aided by the reduction of its natural enemies, such as birds and insects. For years, extensive campaigns have been conducted to restore diversity to forest trees, with the aim of giving them immunity. When some oak trees become dry and easy to catch, other types of trees remain to keep the forest going.
While it was believed that dead leaves, twigs and trunks should be left in the forest floor because they help nourish the soil, rapid climate changes today require the removal of much of it because it causes fires. Contrary to what some environmental groups claim, in good faith, in order not to build roads in the forests and prevent any felling of their trees, it is necessary to build corridors and establish spaces free of trees, to divide the forest into areas isolated from each other with spaces that stop the spread of fires. It also facilitates the access of firefighting teams in case of emergency. A useful measure is to encourage animal grazing in these areas to clear them of weeds.
Some were surprised by the news that the US Forest Service had started fires that covered large areas of forested areas between the United States and Mexico. These fires, which got out of control due to implementation errors, were deliberately intended to prevent larger fires. This is a traditional custom that has been known since ancient times; Where the indigenous people set fire to a specific drought-affected area, after isolating it from its surroundings, as a proactive step to prevent the fire from suddenly breaking out at an inopportune time and spreading to other areas beyond the controllable capacity .
In addition, it is necessary to strengthen the monitoring capabilities to detect the outbreak of fires at an early stage, either through human monitoring or through the installation of sensors or via satellites, which can detect the rapid rise in the temperature of a particular area. locate. This precedes the identification of the places most at risk, in order to strengthen control over them. Since many of the wooded areas are located within private property, it is necessary to educate their owners and the residents of the neighborhood and train them in the ways of care and control and the speed to respond to the fire when it occurs. prevent.
The recent exceptional droughts are just as important as wildfires, and neither are they being solved by emergency measures or pending carbon emission cuts. Climate change certainly exacerbates droughts and water scarcity, but that does not excuse quick measures that can be achieved through better water management and food production. In the Arab region, the belief is growing that before other countries can claim the inalienable right to a greater share of river water, the countries of the crossing and the downstream must improve efficiency in water use and put an end to waste. It should also plan to improve food security by selecting types of crops suitable for dry areas and requiring less water, even if this requires a change in some food habits.
The droughts that hit Europe this summer prompted their governments to discover major policy and management gaps, with a lack of proactive planning. For example, the Netherlands has found that low water prices do not encourage consumers to save money. Spain has also discovered the danger of continuing to play the role of a European vegetable and fruit garden, despite the huge profits it brings. Hundreds of dams built in its dry areas are no longer enough to irrigate the growing areas of profitable export crops, as well as to irrigate golf courses for tourists. The problem is therefore not reduced to the worsening of drought and water scarcity due to climate change, but rather to the imbalance between the limited renewable resources and economic ambitions.
The rational management of resources, which respects the capabilities and limitations of nature, is cheaper and more feasible than being satisfied with advanced equipment to face disasters.
* Secretary General of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED)
Editor-in-Chief of the magazine “Environment and Development”.