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Morocco raises awareness of forest fire risk as summer approaches

A view of flames as a forest burns, in the village of Dikela, near Alexandroupolis town, in the northeastern Evros region, Greece, Aug. 22, 2023   -  
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Hajarah Nalwadda/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


The Sakina forest on the outskirts of Kenitra (45 kilometres north of Rabat) is popular with picnicking families, enjoying an afternoon barbecue shaded from the summer sun by trees.

The 150 hectares park regularly attracts between 5,000 to 10,000 visitors per day, with the majority bringing a meal to cook in the open air.

The fires are a source of worry for park ranger Ahmed Araba:

“The first problem we face in this urban park is fire, especially during the summer season. We have a problem with the first time visitors who bring their raw food here to cook it. When they arrive at the park, they dig holes and light fires and this is one of the dangers that threaten the tree,” he says.

The National Agency for Water and Forestry (ANEF) is promoting fire safety awareness to park visitors.

Moroccan forests are extremely flammable during the summer season because of the increase in temperatures, the reduction in air humidity and the onset of dry and hot winds.

Just one moment of human carelessness could start a blaze that could destroy large areas of forests.

So firefighters, park rangers and ANEF staff members are speaking to visitors and handing out leaflets on preventing forest fires.

And the message seems to be getting through.

Visitor Said Tawil says that lighting a fire near the trunk of a tree is dangerous.

“If I visit another forest and meet someone lighting a fire next to a tree, I will advise him not to do it so that he will not harm the tree and himself. We have to protect the forest because it’s our mother,“ he says.

Another visitor Youssef El Guerch chooses not to cook food on day trips like this.

“To avoid the danger of forests fires, I avoid bringing with me any flammable matter such as charcoal or gas canisters. I avoid all problems by bringing ready made food from my house".

According to the National Agency for Water and Forestry, 466 fires were recorded in 2023, affecting 6,426 hectares, while the area burnt in the previous year reached 22,760 hectares.

Climate expert Mostafa Salah Benramel, the chairman of an environmental NGO called Minarets Ecological Association for Climate and Development, says that extreme weather attributed to the El Niño phenomenon is a factor in the recent dry weather in the region.

“There is El Niño phenomenon that contributes to raising temperatures during all seasons and also the reduction in rainfall that makes plants very dry. The smallest spark resulting from human activity ignites fires with catastrophic consequences”.

El Niño is a natural, temporary and occasional warming of part of the Pacific that shifts global weather patterns, and studies say that as the world warms, they may get stronger.

The National Agency for Water and Forestry (ANEF) say they have managed to reduce the area affected by wildfires in 2023 by 70% compared to the previous year.

Major Bilal El Yaacoubi, Head of Kenitra Zone for Forestry Development says technology and experience has helped reduce the impact of forest fires in Morocco: “We rely on sophisticated means and methods to combat forest fires, among them drones that help us find exactly the source of the fires on top of the fleet of Canadair planes. We have the training as well as the experience gained from the previous blazes. All these factors help Morocco to be successful in fighting fires and reduce the scope of damaged areas”.

For the year 2024, ANEF has allocated a total budget of 153 million dirhams for the prevention and fight against forest fires.

On top of this budget which finances a multi-pronged approach to fire prevention, Morocco has expanded its fleet of specialised Canadair firefighting aircrafts to seven, with an eighth planned for arrival next year.