Wildfires are a major issue that is causing havoc and destruction around the world, and Cyprus is no exception. With a high concentration of forests and dry vegetation, Cyprus is particularly susceptible to wildfires. The island has witnessed a significant increase in the number of wildfires in recent decade, with its largest and most damaging wildfire in 2011, seeing the death of four people, destruction of 50 homes, damaging of farms and public infrastructure, and the evacuation of 10 villages, resulting in thousands of lives being affected. Seeing how Cyprus has a period lasting ¾ of the year where extremely high temperatures and low precipitation can be observed, this means that the issue of wildfires have been a problem for years, dating back all the way to 1995. Each wildfire, no matter the size, brings devastating consequences for the environment, people, and the economy. In this article, we will explore the environmental and human issues of wildfires in Cyprus, as well as possible solutions to improve the situation.
Large forest fire
Outlining the problem
Wildfires cause significant damage to each and every environment. Trees, plants, and wildlife are all affected by the destruction of large areas of forest. The loss of vegetation can also lead to soil erosion, which can cause problems for years to come. When vegetation is destroyed, there is also a significant increase in carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming. The destruction of natural habitats can also lead to a decrease in biodiversity and the extinction of species.
Wildfires have been prone to cause damage and devastation to the environments they temporarily occupy. These disasters, natural or not, cause a multitude of issues: whether it be the release of harmful toxic gasses into the atmosphere, or destruction of the environment, wildfires are incredibly damaging to the entire animal world, humans included. According to the Cyprus Department of Forests, from 2015 to 2020, there were 4,787 wildfires recorded in Cyprus, burning a total of 20,221 hectares of forested land resulting in significant environmental, economic, and social impacts.
And the List Just Goes on…
The issues however do not just end there. Additionally to the immediate impact of the natural disaster, there is a variety of long term issues which cause both local and global damage. In humans for example, while second degree skin burns could be temporary, the smoke from wildfires can cause irreversible damage to animal lung tissue, increasing risk of asthma attacks, and other respiratory issues. However, this risk is not just an issue for the affected surroundings, but for a very large radius around ground zero of the wildfire: It is important to note that the impact of wildfires on lung health is not limited to those living in close proximity to the fire. Smoke and particulate matter from wildfires can travel long distances and affect air quality in surrounding areas. The WHO recommends that individuals in areas affected by wildfire smoke should stay indoors, avoid physical exertion, and use air filters or masks if necessary.
Nevertheless, the issues do not stop there, and this time, unlike the respiratory issues, which will only affect the local populace, these ones will affect generations to come. The burning of the forests, or any greenery at all, releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere, including, but not limited to, Carbon Dioxide and Sulfur Dioxide. Sulfur Dioxide is an incredibly harmful gas, as it reacts with water vapor in the air, and falls to the ground as acid rain, damaging vegetation, polluting water, weakening infrastructure, and decreasing crop yields by degrading the soil. CO2 on the other hand, is a very prominent gas in the ever growing issue of global warming and Cyprus is a major victim of this. If temperatures will increase even more in summer time, the conditions will not be healthy neither for the locals nor for the indigenous vegetation.
Lastly, worth mentioned havoc is the irreversible damage that the wildfires cause to the local biodiversity. One of them is the Cyprus Mouflon, a wild goat endemic species in the island. The natural disaster not only kills animals that were not able to escape, but also destroys their nests and erodes soil, increasing the risk of landslides whilst threatening aquatic wildlife, as the eroded land pollutes underground sources.
Effects of acid rain and forest fires
The Battle is not Over Yet
Not all hope is lost though. There are several solutions that can be implemented to improve the issue of wildfires, both globally and locally. The first solution is to simply raise awareness of the issue amongst the society. This can be done through public education campaigns and the distribution of information about the dangers of wildfires through social media. The second solution is to improve forest management practices. This includes to hire more firefighters and train them accordingly, to implement more effective fire prevention measures and develop new technologies to detect fires quickly, alongside maintaining proper care and up to date equipment for the fire brigades.
Another solution is to create fire breaks, which are areas where vegetation has been removed to prevent the spread of fires, or includes non-combustible vegetation, such as planting fire-resistant vegetation (succulents, deciduous trees, and non-flammable ground cover). This may help to reduce the risk of wildfires spreading. Fire breaks can be created by manually removing vegetation or by using machines such as bulldozers. It is also essential to increase the use of fire-retardant materials in buildings and infrastructure.
Public infrastructure is another solution. Roads and power lines could reduce risk of wildfires, if they are structured efficiently. Finally, it is necessary to develop a comprehensive wildfire management plan that includes early detection systems and proper monitoring of the surrounding environments. This plan should involve the government, local communities, NGOs and private organisations by implementing the European and international environmental agreements and include the measures suggested in the local legislative system and the political agenda.