EU debates forest fire crisis

EU debates forest fire crisis

2 September 2007

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Europe — European Union ministers have called for more EU action to prevent forest fires in the wake of deadly blazes in Greece, while debating strategies to combat drought and water scarcity in the 27-nation bloc.

Portuguese Environment Minister Francisco Nunes Correia, whose country holds the EU presidency, said environment ministers expressed sympathy to Greece at a meeting in Lisbon after eight days of fires killed 63 people.

“Many delegations expressed their solidarity with Greece, which is suffering devastating damage now, and they recognised the need in this context to further develop European policies,” he told a news conference.

Correia said ministers called on the executive European Commission to review ways to strengthen the EU’s capacity to prevent such disasters and to increase “preparedness and the ability to respond and support recovery”.

But ministers were divided on the need for new EU legislation on drought and water scarcity.

Northern countries, concerned about costs and increased bureaucracy, expressed scepticism, while southern nations sought new rules to address the issue, one official said.

“Everyone was agreed that we have to be more careful in how we use water,” he said. The disagreement lay in “how far to take that”.

Correia said such legislation could require EU governments to identify drought risk areas and draw up contingency plans, but he recognised that not all states supported the idea and said the focus now would be on implementing existing EU water policies.

The European Commission released a report on Friday that said the bloc could reduce its water use by 40%.

Meanwhile authorities in Greece said they expected fires there would burn for at least four more days, reinvigorated by strong winds.

The Commission, which has coordinated help for Greece from EU governments, warned that similar disasters were likely to take place again in the future.

“Due to climate change, due to drought and to a number of other phenomena, we must expect similar events to occur in the years to come,”said Peter Mogens Carl, head of the Commission’s environment directorate.

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