Research on the causes of forest fires in Algeria was carried out by Professor at the University of Minho, Antonio Bento-Gonçalves.
In Algeria, forests and scrubland occupy a total area of about 4 million hectares. And according to Bento-Gonçalves, This makes much of the country vulnerable to fires. Over a 25-year period, from 1985 to 2010, Algeria recorded 42,555 fires that burned a total area of 910,640 hectares, the same source said.
The most affected municipalities (called “wilayas”) are in the north, the most wooded regions of the country, and in the west. “These areas are more populated, hilly (with steep slopes) and a pronounced Mediterranean climate – a very dry and hot season in summer, but humid enough in winter to allow rapid vegetation growth,” he explains.
Among the factors that would promote the rapid spread of forest fires, there are places that are difficult to access and in good conditions, says the researcher. He adds that large parts of Algeria tick those boxes. With very limited access and steep slopes, detection and effective first intervention by firefighters is very difficult. In addition, the undergrowth is generally very dry and the forests are made up of flammable species.
Let us add to this the Algerian forest areas which are subjected to multiple human pressures creating favorable conditions for the propagation of fires. “These include the use of fast-growing but more flammable forest species or the frequent use of fire for grazing regeneration. In addition, having long periods of hot, dry weather increases the risk of fire, ”says the professor.
“Forest managers do not have the authority and resources to carry out their tasks”
Forest fires in Algeria were historically man-made. However, recent official information on the causes of fires is characterized by a high rate of “unknown origin” fires, accounting for between 40% and 70% of all fires. “Essentially, we know they will be caused by people, but there is no specific data on the activity that caused them or the motivations behind them,” says the professor.
The same source reveals that all this is linked to the difficulties of monitoring by the General Directorate of Forests. Between 1980 and 2000, when the causes of fires of unknown origin were more important, this was due to instability. Algeria experienced a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and prevented government agencies, including the Forestry Directorate, from functioning properly. It was therefore difficult to fully understand the causes of the fires.
Bento-Gonçalves explains that the policies put in place to fight against forest fires are organized around several points: information and education of the population, development and maintenance of rural and forest areas, monitoring of wooded areas, improvement of means of Fight against fires.
“Forest managers do not have the authority and the resources to carry out their tasks,” admits the researcher.
To effectively fight the fires, the professor believes that there should be political, social and economic stability in the country.
Other actions must be undertaken, in particular the strengthening of education and awareness-raising and the improvement of equipment for monitoring, detecting and combating forest fires.
Finally, “political decision-makers must focus on strengthening cooperation and mutual assistance between all Mediterranean countries. Fire knows no borders and no country is capable of having all the necessary resources ”, concludes Bento-Gonçalves.