Algeria, in mourning, still at war on devastating fires

(Tizi-Ouzou) The firefighters and volunteers benefiting from the start of international aid will fight relentlessly against the flames that are devastating northern Algeria from the extreme on the first day of the national mourning declaration in honor of the 71 people who died in these fires Heat intensified.

Posted on Aug 12, 2021 at 8:41 am Updated at 4:50 pm

Yacine BENRABIA with Abdelhafid DAAMACHE in Algiers Agence France-Presse

In the evening, the Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced in a short televised address the arrest of 22 alleged arsonists, including 11 in Tizi Ouzou, a city in Kabylia, a Berber-speaking region in northeastern France Algeria, traditionally rebellious against the central power.

Without naming them, Mr Tebboune accused the Kabyle separatists of trying to take advantage of the disaster to divide the country. According to the head of state, most of the fires are “criminal in origin”.

The largest country in the Maghreb remains in a series of devastating fires, which, according to a recent report, have already killed 43 civilians and 28 soldiers.

Charred vegetation, dying cattle and besieged villages: the fires have also wreaked havoc in Kabylia, a region in northeast Algeria.

In a statement on Thursday, civil protection reported “92 fires in 16 Wilayas (prefectures), 37 of them in Tizi Ouzou and 15 in El Tarf,” near the Tunisian border.

In the prefecture of Tizi Ouzou, the area with the highest number of human losses, pictures by an AFP photographer show entire sections of forest gone up in smoke as far as the eye can see.

While they had to evacuate their homes to escape the flames, the villagers returned to their villages. Then they see devastated the extent of the damage.

One of them told AFP that he had lost everything: “I have nothing left. My workshop, my car, my apartment ”.

But this man “managed to save his family” while “neighbors died or lost loved ones,” he comforts himself as best he can.

State mourning

Faced with the tragedy, Algeria will observe three days of state mourning starting Thursday and the flags have been hoisted at half mast in Algiers.

On the fourth day of these fires, efforts to fight the fires will continue unabated.

With often limited resources, firefighters, soldiers and volunteers always try to get the flames under control. They are supported by two water bombers sent by France that arrived on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet.

In his televised address, President Tebboune promised that two more Canadairs from Spain and one from Switzerland would arrive.

Given the scale of the disaster, calls for help are increasing in civil society, in Algeria and beyond.

In France – where there are numerous human connections with the southern coast of the Mediterranean – NGOs are active to send material to disaster areas through local organizations.

In the country itself, “individuals and associations mobilize tirelessly by organizing collections of clothes, food and drugs,” writes the TSA information site.

“God bless her because we’re exhausted […] We ran out of electricity and people were bringing generators from all over the place, ”said Berbère TV Djaffar, a resident of the village of Agoulmim in Kabylia.

“The flames engulfed the village, they were very high, they destroyed everything […] Suddenly it became like a volcano, ”he added.

Diaspora mobilized

With Algeria facing an extreme heat wave, the winds make it difficult for rescuers.

The judiciary also ordered an investigation into the circumstances of the death of a man accused of arson by a crowd who sacrificed him.

Videos published on social networks show “an angry crowd” beating a man “to death” after accusing him of pyromania, the NGO Amnesty International denounced.

In the face of the dual disaster of forest fires and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Algerian diaspora in France has been at the forefront to organize the collection and delivery of emergency aid, a massive mobilization of civil society to address the shortcomings of the state.

The north of Algeria is hit by forest fires every year. In 2020, almost 44,000 hectares of coppice forest went up in smoke.

But this phenomenon intensifies as the fires multiply on the planet.

According to various weather services, an extreme heat wave in the Maghreb must last until the weekend. Tunisia recorded an absolute record on Wednesday in Kairouan (center) with a temperature of over 50 degrees (50.3 C). Thirty fires have been registered in this country since Monday.

On the north coast of the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey have been the hardest hit countries in the past two weeks.

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