Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mediterranean forests are a burning issue

PeopleandPlanet.net: From Lebanon to Lisbon, the Mediterranean summer produces more than just suntans; the dry heat so beloved of holidaymakers also creates the perfect conditions for forest fires. On average, some 400,000 hectares of forest go up in smoke each year in the region, notably in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, creating billions of euros worth of damage and all too often taking human lives.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that there are over 50,000 fires each summer and that more than 90 per cent of them are started by people, either deliberately or accidentally. The fires, together with unrestrained urban sprawl, over-exploitation and land misuse in other parts of the region, threaten to deplete the Mediterranean forest ecosystems, one of the world’s richest stores of biodiversity. The Mediterranean basin is home to over 25,000 different species of flowering plants, half of which are unique to the basin.

Climate change threatens to make matters worse. Not only will the more intense and frequent heat waves and hotter summers, predicted by climate change models, make forest fires more devastating, rising temperatures and lower rainfall pose their own problems of adaptation for the region’s flora and fauna, threatening the survival of many….

Forest fires in Greece, 2007, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

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