PORTUGAL: Minister for Internal Administration Eduardo Cabrita visited Portimão today as the country ramps up efforts to be “better prepared” for yet another wildfire season.
The logistics of the day-trip involved “getting to know the functional dynamic of municipal Civil Protection” (in other words, learning about the town’s ‘exceptional plan of action’ for forest fires), attending an operational training exercise and signing three contracts – all connected with firefighting protection – for a value of €480,000.
Events taking place during the day included awareness exercises like “Queima Segura” in Rasmalho, on the way up to Monchique, “Protect your home from forest fires” (directed at the area’s foreign populations) and “door-to-door” initiatives designed to inform on the do’s and don’ts for the approaching summer.
But aside from the promotional razzmatazz, the bottom line is that government ‘demands’ heaped on municipalities’ backs are causing a great deal of friction.
Says Expresso, the national association of municipalities is adamant that the May 31 deadline for forestry and land ‘clearing’ – according to rigorous stipulations – is “unworkable”, while several borough councils have already admitted they do not have the manpower to even check that landowners are doing what has been asked of them – let alone the means to take over the tasks if they aren’t.
Many homeowners have already accepted that the new rules “may just as well be ignored”, a source told the Resident “as they make no sense.
“People have spent thousands landscaping gardens and suddenly they are being told they have to cut down trees because they are too near the house! This is crazy”, a landscape gardener explained. “When trees are set in grassed areas with automatic irrigation systems around them, there is no reason on earth to start cutting them down”.
As Expresso explains, this “conflict” between what the government says it wants and what councils feel to be adequate is made even worse by the stipulation that the latter could lose up to 20% of their central funding if deemed non-compliant.
Assurances made by Cabrita that the government has “created a credit line of €50 million euros” have fallen very much on stony ground, particularly as in some cases, landowners can never be identified, or are far too poor to pay for the demands placed upon them.
Trying to calm rising concerns over the weekend, Cabrita said councils would be “spared” from repaying the State for works undertaken, until they had been reimbursed by landowners – but this seems to have missed the point. As councils have been at pains to explain, they don’t have the wherewithal to carry out land-clearing works by May 31 if landowners haven’t done them, and they certainly don’t have the manpower to check the situation of all rural properties in their areas.