After the devastating earthquake that struck Syria's northern coast in February, the region is now facing yet another catastrophe as wildfires sweep through the area, leaving destruction in their wake. For 72-year-old farmer Izzadin Zuhaira, who has already endured war, displacement, and the earthquake, the forest fires are the worst he has ever seen.
Zuhaira had been living off the harvests of his 700 olive, pomegranate, and walnut trees, but these precious orchards were reduced to ashes by the rapidly spreading flames. His modest farmhouse, already weakened by years of conflict and the earthquake, was further damaged, leaving him with nothing.
The wildfires that have engulfed Syria's northern coast are part of a larger problem faced by countries around the Mediterranean. Strong winds and scorching temperatures have supercharged these fires, making them extremely challenging for firefighters to control. In mid-July, similar wildfires were reported in Homs and Hama, further exacerbating the situation.
Syria's agriculture minister, Mohammad Hassaan Qatna, highlighted some of the obstacles faced by firefighters in tackling the blazes. Poor telecoms coverage in the region made communication difficult, and acquiring fireproof suits and spare parts for extinguishing equipment posed additional challenges.
The financial meltdown triggered by Syria's 12-year conflict, Western sanctions, currency squeeze, and the loss of oil-producing territories has also hindered the country's ability to respond effectively to such disasters.
The extent of the damage caused by the wildfires is yet to be determined, but Qatna confirmed that the region's pine forests were severely affected. The highly flammable nature of pine trees only served to intensify the inferno.
Climate change has also played a significant role in exacerbating Syria's vulnerability to natural disasters. Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall have led to forest fires and poor harvests, threatening the livelihoods of farmers like Zuhaira.
Suhair Zakkout, the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, pointed out that Syrians were already in a precarious position due to the prolonged conflict. The impact of climate change further compounds their challenges, making it even more difficult for them to cope with the aftermath of these disasters.
As the region grapples with the immediate consequences of the wildfires, there is a pressing need for coordinated efforts to address both the humanitarian and environmental aspects of this crisis.