Portugal – Portugal’s prime minister appeared to lose his patience with journalists’ questions Wednesday as accusations flew about who might be to blame for the deaths of 64 people in a raging forest fire.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa pledged to clarify the “contradictory information” as soon as possible amid claims and counter-claims between different authorities involved in fighting the deadly blaze. He walked away from reporters before returning and saying “nobody is more eager than I am to find out” what happened.
The catastrophe has also provided political ammunition to opposition parties, with some calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa.
Criticism of how the fire was handled has focused mainly on the country’s emergency telecommunications network, known by its acronym SIRESP.
Firefighters say the system didn’t work properly during the five days they fought the wildfire that started in central Portugal on June 17, when the deaths occurred. The Civil Protection Agency, which operates the firefighting service, said in a report that flaws in the radio system prevented the smooth flow of information between the command post and firefighters in the field.
The company that runs SIRESP insisted in a separate report that the system “met the challenge,” handling 1.1 million calls over the five days. However, it acknowledged the network was occasionally overloaded, saying that 8.3 per cent of the emergency calls got a busy signal on the night that the blaze swept across a road and killed so many people fleeing in their cars.
An Interior Ministry report, meanwhile, blamed the Civil Protection Agency for not deploying extra mobile satellite receivers to handle the exceptional load of calls. There were more than 1,000 firefighters, plus police and medical staff at the fire site, all of them using SIRESP.
Costa himself has come under scrutiny for his actions in 2006, when he was the interior minister in charge of police and firefighters. The Jornal de Noticias reported that Portugal’s Audit Court expressed misgivings at the time that the contract awarded to the company running SIRESP hadn’t gone to a public tender. Costa didn’t address that report.
The prime minister says he won’t act until he gets all the information he needs. The government says it has already received five reports into the catastrophe and is awaiting two others.
In an open letter published on social media Wednesday, 12 academic experts urged the European Commission to support research into fires in forests and buildings, including causes and consequences. The letter published by the Center of Excellence in Risk and Decision Sciences said “fire science is limited and not sufficiently developed.”
Tropical peat swamp forests, which once occupied large swaths of Southeast Asia and other areas, provided a significant “sink” that helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But such forests have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects making way for plantations. Now, research shows peatlands face another threat, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, potentially destroying even forested peatlands that remain undrained.
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-peatlands-dwindling-losses.html#jCpTropical peat swamp forests, which once occupied large swaths of Southeast Asia and other areas, provided a significant “sink” that helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But such forests have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects making way for plantations. Now, research shows peatlands face another threat, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, potentially destroying even forested peatlands that remain undrained.