Human activity responsible for 96% of wildfires around Mediterranean basin: WWF

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Human activity responsible for 96% of wildfires around Mediterranean basin: WWF
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Reuters
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Some 96% of wildfires in the countries around the Mediterranean basin are started by human activity, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) flagged on Thursday.

The WWF Spain study analysed the causes of origin for wildfires in Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Turkey — which account for 80% of the total surface burnt across Europe every year — and concluded that only 4% of them are natural.

At least 40% of wildfires caused by human activity are the result of negligence or accidents.

"Mediterranean ecosystems are especially vulnerable to climate change. In addition, in southern Europe, we suffer the cumulative effects of rural depopulation, the abandonment of traditional uses, the absence of forest management, a chaotic model of urbanism and the deep-rooted culture of fire (both for management and for recreational uses)," the report notes.

Another 26% of wildfires were intentional, with reasons ranging from disputes between neighbours or forest authorities to conflicts over wolf or hunting.

More than 224,000 hectares have already burnt across Europe this year, nearly four times the amount recorded at the same time in 2018.

Wildfires, the WWF highlighted, not only have a deep environmental impact, but they also cost an average of €2 billion a year to combat.

The human cost is also high: 222 people have died over the past two years in Spain, Greece and Portugal because of wildfires. Sixty-six people died in Pedrogao Grade, Portugal in 2017, while the Attica wildfires in Greece last year claimed 100 lives.

Experts are now warning against the rise of "superfires" or mega-fire which spread at great speed — up to 4,000 hectares per hour — making them incredibly difficult to contain.