Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites

Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites

Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites Could Be Lead Hotspots

A new Duke University study finds that municipal waste incinerators’ legacy of contamination could live on in urban soils.


DURHAM, N.C. – For much of the last century, many cities across the United States and Canada burned their trash and waste in municipal incinerators. Most of these facilities were closed by the early 1970s due to concerns about the pollution they added to the air, but a new Duke University study finds that their legacy of contamination could live on in urban soils.

“We found that city parks and playgrounds built on the site of a former waste incinerator can still have greatly elevated levels of lead in their surface soils many decades after the incinerator was closed,” said Daniel D. Richter, professor of soils at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who co-led the research.

Exposure to lead in soil has been linked to potential long-term health problems, particularly in children. These include possible damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, and learning and behavioral problems.

To conduct their study, Richter and his students collected and analyzed surface soil samples from three city parks in Durham, N.C. that are located on former incinerator sites closed in the early 1940s.

Samples collected from a two-acre section of East Durham Park contained lead levels over 2000 parts per million, more than five times higher than the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for safe soils in children’s play areas.

Samples collected from Walltown Park mostly contained low lead levels, “but about 10% were concerning and a few were very high,” Richter noted.

Samples collected from East End Park all contained levels of soil lead below the current EPA threshold for children’s safety “and presented no cause for concern,” he said.

The sharp differences in lead levels between the three parks underscores the need for increased monitoring, he stressed.

Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites Daniel Richter collects soil sample
Daniel Richter collects soil samples as part of a new study on lead contamination in urban soils.

“Determining where contamination risks persist, and why contamination is decreasing at different rates in different locations, is essential for identifying hotspots and mitigating risks,” Richter said. “Many cities should mobilize resources to do widespread sampling and monitoring, and create soil maps and, more specifically, soil lead maps.”

“That’s where we really need to go,” Richter said. “Not just in Durham but in hundreds of other cities where parks, as well as churches, schools and homes, may have been built on former waste incinerator and ash disposal sites.”

By analyzing historic surveys of municipal waste management, the Duke team found that about half of all cities surveyed in the U.S. and Canada incinerated solid waste between the 1930s and 1950s.

“These incinerators burned all kinds of garbage and trash, including paint, piping, food cans and other products that contained lead back then,” Richter said. The leftover ash, in which lead and other contaminants were concentrated, was sometimes covered with a too-thin layer of topsoil or even spread around parks, new construction sites or other urban spaces as a soil amendment.

“Historical surveys indicate a lack of appreciation for the health and environmental hazards of city-waste incinerator ash. Back then, they didn’t know what we do now,” he said.

New technology could help make sampling and monitoring more feasible at the thousands of sites nationwide that may be contaminated, he added. Using a portable x-ray fluorescence instrument, his lab is now able to do a preliminary analysis on a soil sample for multiple metals, including lead, in just 20 seconds.

Making use of historical records about waste incineration and ash disposal could also speed efforts to identify hotspots. In their paper, Richter and his students provide histories gleaned from archived public works records, old street maps and newspaper clippings showing where ash was burned and disposed of in six sample cities: Los Angeles; New York City; Baltimore; Spokane, Wash.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Charleston, S.C.

“This is something you could do for many cities to guide monitoring efforts,” Richter said.

“There’s been a lot of interest in mitigating lead exposure in cities, but most until now has been focused on reducing risks within the home. Our study reminds us that risks exist in the outdoor environment, too,” he said.

Richter and his students published their peer-reviewed findings on Sept. 11 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

His co-authors on the new paper were Enikoe Bihari, a 2023 Master of Environmental Management graduate of the Nicholas School who conducted much of the research as part of her Master’s Project, and Garrett Grewal, a senior at Duke majoring in Earth and Climate Sciences.

Funding came from Duke University and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P42ES010356).

CITATION: “Legacies of Pre-1960s Municipal Waste Incineration in the Pb of City Soils,”

Enikoe Bihari, Garrett Grewal, and Daniel D. Richter. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, Sept. 11, 2023. DOI: doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.3c00488.





Sustainable architecture in face of climate change

Sustainable architecture in face of climate change

The above-featured image is for illustration and is IDEALWORK on similar concern.

Sustainable architecture in face of climate change

By ANSUMAN PATI in the Pioneer.

As the globe struggles to overcome the obstacles presented by a rapidly changing environment, the complex interaction between art, architecture, and climate change has become more important. By designing buildings that blend in with the environment, reflect sustainable practices, and endure the effects of climate change, architects, as stewards of the built environment, play a crucial role in determining the future of our world.


Design inspired by nature


In a time of environmental awareness, architects are looking to nature more often for inspiration. The design principle of “biomimicry,” which imitates natural patterns and processes, is essential for developing sustainable buildings. Architects can create creative solutions that cut down on energy use, improve thermal performance, and minimise resource waste by studying the effectiveness of natural systems. Natural-inspired structures not only have a less carbon footprint but also mix in perfectly with their surroundings, making them real-world illustrations of sustainable art.


Construction methods, sustainable materials


The environmental impact of a structure is significantly influenced by the materials and construction techniques used. To reduce embodied carbon and advance a circular economy, architects are adopting sustainable materials like reclaimed wood, recycled metal, and low-emission concrete. Additionally, prefabrication and modular construction methods reduce waste from building projects, energy use, and harm to nearby ecosystems. Sustainable architecture elevates the building process to the level of an art form by demonstrating how ecological responsibility and human inventiveness may coexist together.


Passive design, net-zero energy


The movement towards net-zero energy buildings, or buildings that produce as much energy as they need, is being led by architects. Buildings that generate clean energy while preserving their visual appeal are being made by architects by utilising renewable energy sources including solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal systems. The use of artificial cooling and heating is reduced by passive design techniques including orienting buildings to maximise natural sunlight and ventilation, creating places that are both energy-efficient and comfortable. The architect’s dedication to sustainability and creativity is demonstrated by the way in which technology and design have been combined.


Adaptivity, resilience


Architects must create structures that are durable and flexible as climate change leads to increasingly frequent and intense weather occurrences. The architect’s commitment to protecting human life and preserving architectural history is exemplified by the use of flood-resistant foundations, hurricane-resistant windows, and earthquake-resistant buildings. By lowering the need for new building materials, adaptive reuse, or repurposing old structures, he helps the environment. Through their innovative designs, architects are reinventing how structures react to shifting environmental conditions.


Urban planning, green spaces


Urban planning and public spaces are also included in the convergence of art, architecture, and sustainability, in addition to specific buildings. The integration of parks, green roofs, and urban forests into the urban fabric is something that architects are strong proponents of. These green areas reduce urban heat islands, offer crucial ecological services, and enhance air quality. Urban planning that emphasises bicycle infrastructure, walkability, and effective public transportation lowers carbon emissions and promotes thriving, liveable communities. The architect’s position as a visionary artist sculpting the urban landscape is reflected in this comprehensive approach to sustainable design.


Cultural preservation


In addition to protecting the environment, architects also have a duty to preserve cultural heritage and promote social justice. Historic building preservation and the incorporation of regional architectural cues into contemporary architecture celebrate cultural identity and promote a sense of neighbourhood. In addition, architects work to design inclusive and accessible settings that improve everyone’s wellbeing, regardless of their age or level of ability. Architects express their dedication to sustainability, which includes both the physical and human components of design, by placing a priority on cultural preservation and social effect.


A sustainable future that seamlessly integrates art and architecture into the structure of our environment is something that architects can create in the face of climate change by using a special combination of creativity, innovation, and responsibility. The skilful blending of nature-inspired design, sustainable materials, net-zero energy solutions, resilience, and social effect demonstrates the architect’s crucial role in establishing a society in which beauty and sustainability coexist. Architects represent the transforming force of design via their imaginative works, pointing humanity in the direction of a time when art and architecture will stand as enduring symbols of our dedication to the environment and its inhabitants.

(The writer is an architect who shows insight into things that helps in producing sustainable architectural eco-friendly buildings)




This simple and smart solution could solve cities’ extreme heat problem

This simple and smart solution could solve cities’ extreme heat problem

In the MENA region, where shading, because of the prevailing climate, has been for millennia and still is one of the most important architectural elements for all built structures of the past, this simple and smart solution could solve cities’ extreme heat problem exposure.

The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to TENSILE FABRIC SHADE


This simple and smart solution could solve cities’ extreme heat problem

Gensler spent three years researching how to mitigate extreme heat in vulnerable communities.
This simple and smart solution could solve cities’ extreme heat problem
[Photo: courtesy Gensler]

Three years ago, the community impact team at the global design, architecture and planning firm Gensler set out to find answers to a question that rises to the very top of every architect’s mind when a heat wave sweeps over a city: What is the fastest, cheapest way to cool down our cities? Or as Amanda Stone, Gensler’s research manager and community impact specialist, put it: “How can we design a design process to create solutions for the built environment that would combat extreme heat?”

The answer Gensler came up with—an adaptable shading structure that can be configured to fit different kinds of public spaces—is by no means a silver bullet that will help cool cities everywhere in the world. But it is worth dwelling on the process that informed it, which could (and should) become a blueprint for any designer or urban planner working with local communities.

This simple and smart solution could solve cities’ extreme heat problem
[Image: courtesy Gensler]

After receiving three internal research grants to more deeply explore the question, the Gensler team got to work, but it found that answering Stone’s original prompt—which puts an emphasis on the process, not the output—was too broad and complex to come from only one team. And so, it was circulated across Gensler’s broader network of designers and researchers, who then tapped into their own networks in search of community partners who may want to participate.

One of those communities was in the Costa Rican city of Curridabat, which has been suffering the consequences of climate change for years. Paula Badilla, sustainability specialist at Gensler’s Costa Rica office and regional resilience leader for Latin America, explains that Curridabat already had a strong climate action plan and had been measuring things like its heat vulnerability index, urban heat island effects and flood risk across the municipality. But the team didn’t simply rely on those datapoints to inform the design process—they actually asked residents where they felt the hottest.

This simple and smart solution could solve cities’ extreme heat problem
[Photo: courtesy Gensler]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the heat maps and residents’ responses didn’t always match, so in Curridabat, the community chose the final three locations based on their own experiences of the city: right outside a human development center, close to a sports field, and in a skatepark with one lone tree.

[Photo: courtesy Gensler]

In those three locations, the team developed a brief for a shading structure, which they turned into an internal competition to design what it would look like. More than 80 people participated across Gensler’s Latin American offices. The winning design ticked all the boxes: it was modular and could therefore be accommodated to fit all tree locations; it was easy enough for the community to build it (and feel a sense of ownership in the process); and it could be made with pretty much any locally found materials—in this case bamboo, rope and canvas. As a bonus, it could also provide more than just shade: residents could use the canvas as a projection screen, or replace it altogether with art, or a trellis for ivy.


[Image: courtesy Gensler]

To measure the impact the structure will have on the community and how they experience heat, the team is planning to install humidity and temperature trackers on all three structures, then will monitor them over the next three months. They’re also hoping to install CCTV-like cameras to understand who is using the structures (children? teens? parents?) and what they’re using them for. They could, of course, survey residents in a few months, but as project manager Ana Thomas notes: “When you ask people, they tell you things you want to hear, but we need the right information about how they really feel.”

Either way, the findings will not only inform future iterations, but also serve as validation for the community. “The one good thing that I have seen in terms of what really works is knowledge sharing,” says Stone. “It’s gathering the data, gathering the best practices, and sharing those with community members, not keeping it insular.”

Not able to prevent climate breakdown without impacting the living world

Not able to prevent climate breakdown without impacting the living world

The authors elaborate on how at this stage, we are not able to prevent climate breakdown without impacting the living world.  Would what is put forward be applicable to the MENA region? Or is it a No longer Climate Change but an Environmental breakdown forever?


The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit coverdrone


Why we won’t be able to prevent climate breakdown without changing our relationship to the rest of the living world

Not able to prevent climate breakdown without impacting the living world
Not only is deforestation unsightly. Fewer trees also mean less precious carbon sinks to absorb anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Flickr, CC BY-SA

Christian de Perthuis, Université Paris Dauphine – PSL and Édouard Civel, Université Paris Dauphine – PSL

Because of its growing impact on society, global warming has taken centre stage in the public debate. While most of us have not read the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), heat waves, intensifying storms and the multiplication of extreme events remind us of the scale of climate disruption and the urgency of action.

Despite being documented by the Intergovernmental Sciences Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the equivalent of the IPCC for biodiversity, we know little about how biodiversity erosion might affect us and the rest of the planet. Its links and interactions with climate change are underestimated, and any policy to address either in isolation will miss the mark. It’s impossible to take effective action against global warming without addressing our impact on the rest of the living world, and vice versa.

Fossil carbon, living carbon

IPCC scientists have been explaining since their first assessment report (1990) that climate change is a stock problem. To halt global warming, it is not enough to slash greenhouse gas emissions. We need to stabilise their stock in the atmosphere. To achieve reach net zero we must reduce emissions – the inflow into the stock – to the level of the outflow, which is made up of CO2 absorption by carbon sinks (forests and oceans) and the elimination of non-CO2 greenhouse gases at the end of their life cycle.

This requires that we adopt a two-pronged plan, aimed both at cutting down our reliance on both fossil and living carbon. The former feeds the vast majority of the world’s pollution, with coal, oil and natural gas accounting for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Tackling it will require that we take on the so-called energy transition.

On the other hand, a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from “living carbon”, mainly as a result of specific agricultural emissions (unrelated to fossil fuel use) and tropical deforestation and other land use changes that erode carbon sinks. There is no way to achieve carbon neutrality without a profound transformation in the use of living resources, to ensure the reflux of agricultural emissions and better protection of carbon sinks. This is the challenge of what we might call the agroclimatic transition.

One of the major difficulties of the ecological transition is to carry out these two transformations simultaneously, as they involve distinct economic mechanisms. For fossil carbon, we need to introduce scarcity by reducing the use of coal, oil and natural gas to the absolute minimum. For living carbon, we need to reinvest in the diversity of ecosystems to reduce agricultural emissions and protect carbon sinks as part of a bioeconomy.

From adding to subtracting

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, energy transitions have followed one another. They have all involved adding new energy sources to a system initially based on the use of biomass. The result has been a massive increase in the amount of energy used worldwide.

The climate is forcing us to break with this logic. Lowering emissions is not a matter of adding decarbonised sources to the energy system. It’s about removing fossil fuels. We need to switch from a logic of addition to one of subtraction.

Not able to prevent climate breakdown without impacting the living world

Russian tractor in a field in Ethiopia

Deforestation and agriculture are the source of ‘living’ carbon emissions.
Ifpri/Flickr, CC BY-SA

From an economic viewpoint, this means massively reconverting brown assets linked to the production or use of fossil fuels, through a double movement of investment in green and disinvestment in brown. The heaviest cost for the economic system is not the hundreds of billions invested in wind or solar farms, battery gigafactories or hydrogen electrolysers. It’s the cost of disinvestment that forces us to downgrade or reconvert brown assets: financial assets, of course, but also physical assets and, above all, the human assets on which the energy transition depends.

Multiple instruments will have to be called upon to bring about such a transformation. Pricing carbon from fossil fuel use is a key way to reflect the increasing scarcity of the atmospheric capacity to store carbon. Whether obtained through taxation or emission trading schemes, such taxation raises the cost of using fossil fuels, without returning the resulting rents to producers, as happens, for example, when oil prices soar on energy markets. On the demand side, it is a powerful stimulus to energy efficiency and sufficiency; on the supply side, it encourages a shift away from carbon assets.

The main difficulty with fossil carbon taxation lies in controlling its distributive impact. As the “gilets jaunes” protests in France showed, fossil carbon taxation without redistribution to the most vulnerable poses more problems than it solves. Only a redistributive carbon tax will be socially acceptable. Similarly, if carbon pricing is to be extended on an international scale, the proceeds must be returned on a massive scale to the countries of the South.

The distributional impacts of regulated carbon markets should also not be underestimated. Within the European Union, the extension of the emission trading scheme to the transport and buildings sector will increase household energy bills. This is why the proceeds from allowances sales at auction must be redistributed to the most vulnerable households via a “social fund” which will be the pillar of the regulation to be put in place.

Not able to prevent climate breakdown without impacting the living world

Yellow vests’ protest in Paris in January 2019  Wikimedia, CC BY-SA


While fossil carbon taxation accelerates the energy transition, negative carbon taxes – in other words, fossil fuel subsidies – delay it. Following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, these subsidies reached unprecedented levels in the European Union, with the multiplication of “tariff shields” erected as a matter of urgency to protect Europeans from the worst of the cost of living crisis.

Another pernicious form of subsidy to fossil fuels is the free allocation of CO2 allowances in the European trading scheme, which hampers the emergence of a green industry, a lever for the competitiveness of tomorrow’s Europe.

Investing in the diversity of living beings

Let’s imagine for a moment that the world has eradicated all use of fossil fuels in 2050. Would we automatically be in a situation of climate neutrality? Everything depends on what has been achieved on the second front of the transition, that of living carbon, the source of a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Pricing fossil carbon is hardly useful for the agroclimatic transition. Worse, it could even prove counterproductive: using a CO2 price based on energy criteria, it would become profitable to transform the Amazon rainforest (or the centuries-old oaks of the French Tronçay forest) into short rotation coppice to produce energy! The reason is simple. Agro-climatic transformation means finding ways to reinvest in biological diversity, in other words, in the abundance of living things. But the price of CO2 does not reflect the value of this diversity. We therefore need to use other instruments, which are more complex to implement.

On land, forests are the main carbon sink. Their capacity to soak up atmospheric CO2 is weakened by a combination of climatic and anthropogenic factors. In France, for example, the CO2 storage capacity of forests has been divided by three since 2005, mainly due to climatic factors. There is therefore an urgent need to adapt forest management methods in anticipation of the severity of tomorrow’s climates. Worldwide, the main anthropogenic impact on forests is tropical deforestation. Its main cause is the expansion of land for crops and livestock. This is why the key to halting deforestation lies in changing agricultural practices.

The key issues of agriculture and food

The impact of farming systems on the net balance of greenhouse gas emissions is not limited to deforestation. Depending on the techniques used, farming systems may themselves release carbon into the atmosphere (deep ploughing, draining of wet soils, etc.) or, on the contrary, store it in living soils (conservation agriculture, agroforestry, etc.). The former erode biodiversity by specialising farmers according to industrial-type logics. The latter use living diversity to intensify production and regenerate the natural environment.

These agroecological techniques also make it possible to better withstand tougher climatic conditions, while reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural sources. In economic terms, their promotion requires investment in innovation, research and development, the establishment of dedicated farm advisory networks and, above all, incentivisation to reward farmers for the ecosystem services they provide to society. This is not something that happens spontaneously on the market. It requires public intervention and dedicated funding.

As in the case of energy, the agroclimatic transition implies, on the demand side, that we consume smarter and less. The foods we eat have contrasting climate footprints. There can be no successful agroclimatic transition without finding ways to dramatically reduce emissions associated with the most polluting ingredients, including industrially processed foods and animal products, especially those from ruminant breeding. The use of food rations might be one way of achieving this, according to the recommendations of the world’s health authorities.

Remembering the ocean

Last but not least, the agroclimatic transition will have to take into account the management of the oceans and marine biodiversity, which are currently the blind spots of climate policies. Global warming and certain human practices (overfishing, pollutant runoff, etc.) are altering marine biodiversity, a crucial component in the storage of CO2 by the oceans. Protecting the ocean sink is vital to stabilise tomorrow’s climate: it is estimated that the continental biosphere contains four times more carbon than the atmosphere. For the oceans, it’s 47 times.

The authors thank Frank Convery for his insightful review

The Climate Economics Chair of Paris Dauphine-PSL University is organising, in partnership with the Toulouse School of Economics and the National Museum of Natural History, the 24th Global Conference on Environmental Taxation, which will take place from September 6 to 8, 2023 and will have as its theme “Climate & Biodiversity: Tackling global footprints”.The Conversation


Christian de Perthuis, Professeur d’économie, fondateur de la chaire « Économie du climat », Université Paris Dauphine – PSL and Édouard Civel, Chercheur au Square Research Center et à la Chaire Economie du Climat, Université Paris Dauphine – PSL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




The Conversation

Africa’s energy investment needs to double by 2030

Africa’s energy investment needs to double by 2030

Africa’s energy investment needs to double by 2030 to meet development and climate goals

Delivering modern energy to all Africans will require nearly $25 billion in spending per year until 2030, report says
Africa’s energy investment needs to double by 2030

Wind turbines at the West Coast One wind farm near Vredenburg, South Africa. Bloomberg

Swift action to improve capital access and reduced financing costs are crucial to boosting clean energy spending in Africa, a report has found.

Energy investment in the continent needs to more than double by 2030 to meet African development ambitions and climate goals, with nearly two thirds going to clean energy, the International Energy Agency and the African Development Bank Group said in a report on Wednesday.

“The African continent has huge clean energy potential, including a massive amount of high-quality renewable resources. But the difficult backdrop for financing means many transformative projects can’t get off the ground,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director.

Despite having 20 per cent of the world’s population, the region only receives 2 per cent of the global investment in clean energy.

A range of “real and perceived” risks are affecting energy projects in Africa as well as higher borrowing costs following the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the report found.

The cost of capital for utility-scale clean energy projects in the region is at least “two to three times higher” than in advanced economies, preventing developers from pursuing commercially viable projects, it said.

“The current shortfall in clean energy investment in Africa puts at risk the achievement of a host of sustainable development goals and could open new dividing lines in energy and climate as clean energy transitions gather speed in advanced economies,” said AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina.

The agency and the AfDB said lowering capital costs and supporting investment-worthy projects would require scaling up several instruments, including early stage financing and the use of tools that can reduce perceived investment risks.

Delivering modern energy, which includes fossil fuels and renewable energy, to all Africans will require nearly $25 billion in spending per year until 2030, according to the agency.

“This is a small amount in the context of global energy spending – equivalent to the investment needed to build one new LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminal a year,” the report said.

“But it requires a very different type of finance, given the need for small-scale projects, often in rural areas and for consumers with limited ability to pay.”

Concessional finance – funding from development finance institutions and donors – of about $28 billion per year is required to mobilise $90 billion of private sector investment by the end of this decade, the report said.

To meet energy and climate goals, funding sourced from or distributed through local channels must nearly triple by 2030, it added.

“Urgent action is needed to dramatically increase clean energy investment in Africa, which has fallen short despite the immense opportunities,” Kenyan President William Ruto said in the report.

Africa’s installed renewable energy capacity is set to grow to more than 530 gigawatts by 2040, from about 54 gigawatts in 2020, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Developing countries require an investment of about $1.7 trillion per year in the clean energy sector but only managed to attract foreign direct investment worth $544 billion in 2022, Unctad, the UN intergovernmental organisation that promotes the interests of developing countries in world trade, said in its World Investment Report in July.

How MENA’s economic and climate crises add fuel to wildfires

How MENA’s economic and climate crises add fuel to wildfires

Arid climates, deforestation, and urbanisation have each aggravated the risk of wildfires in the MENA region. Countries have scrambled to find strategies to mitigate this, however, without resources, they remain at the mercy of the climate crisis.

Researchers said that July 2023 would be the hottest month on Earth in history. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the global average temperature for July was 16.95 °C, exceeding the previous record set in 2019 by a third of a degree Celsius.

In the Arab region, temperatures soared to unprecedented levels with Egypt and Algeria experiencing temperatures exceeding 45 °C, while some cities in Iraq recorded temperatures close to boiling point.

The world has experienced intense heatwaves in the past six weeks, which led to numerous forest fires in various countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa region. Countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon have suffered casualties and significant losses in vegetation and animal life due to these fires.

“Drought is a perfect condition for fires. It is not the only reason for wildfires in the MENA region however as human activities such as deforestation and burning rubbish or agricultural waste close to the forest also cause wildfires”

Perfect conditions

The eastern Mediterranean countries of Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Palestine, as well as the northwest African countries of Algeria and Morocco, are among the most vulnerable to wildfires in the MENA region.

It is anticipated that heatwaves can have negative effects on wildfires in the MENA region. A simple explanation is that vegetation can dry out during unusual heat events, making it more flammable. Excessive evaporation of soil moisture during these prolonged heat events also stresses vegetation and makes it more prone to fire, according to Ahmed Kenawy, professor of climatology at Mansoura University, Egypt.

Ahmed told The New Arab that some of the common plant species in the region’s drier areas, particularly those that have adapted to the dry climate, contain oils and resins that can be very combustible, especially during heat waves. However, depending on the prevailing weather conditions, these effects can vary greatly from one region to another.

How MENA's economic and climate crises add fuel to wildfires
Hotter temperatures dries out crops and increases the risk of wildfires [Getty Images]

Professor Ahmed Kenawy also pointed out that increased humidity during these heat events may reduce the likelihood of wildfires in coastal areas.

Lower humidity accelerates the drying process of vegetation and decreases the moisture level of lifeless organic matter, such as leaves, twigs, and grass, which makes them more prone to burning in interior regions. In certain parts of North Africa, like Egypt, local hot winds, such as the Khamisin, can rapidly spread wildfires, particularly in late spring.

Hesham Eissa, an environmental expert, told The New Arab that winds can rapidly spread wildfires, making them difficult to contain and control.

Also, human activities in the extreme heat during heatwaves may lead to increased use of fire-related activities, such as outdoor cooking or burning waste, which can inadvertently spark wildfires.

Hesham explained that climate change is also affecting wildfires by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming. “This, in turn, can lead to more frequent and intense heat waves, creating a vicious cycle that increases the risk of wildfires in the region.”

Regional struggle

Morocco is one of the countries in the region most affected by forest fires, and the authorities used Canadair (amphibious) planes to extinguish the fires while evacuating the residents of the areas near this forest. The temperature was recorded at 50.4 degrees Celsius in the city of Agadir, in the centre of the country.

At the end of last July, the National Agency for Water and Forests in Morocco announced that the number of fires registered from the beginning of January to the date of July 24, 2023, amounted to 222, in which the fires swept 10,000 square meters. Forests cover 12 percent of the country.

Since the start of this summer, numerous fires have erupted in various regions of Algeria, with the most intense one hitting the northeast of the country, causing the death of 34 individuals, including ten soldiers, in late July. Additionally, the Algerian authorities have disclosed that the fires that affected multiple states last month resulted in the damage of 11,500 people, 972 buildings, and 24,000 hectares of land.

In Libya, the National Center of Meteorology announced last week that temperatures had risen, touching 49 degrees Celsius in some internal areas. At the same time, fires continued to break out, causing no deaths or injuries, but palm trees were damaged in different parts of the country.

The same dangers extended to Tunisia, which witnessed the outbreak of seven fires that spread to some populated areas as well as the destruction of large areas of agricultural crops close to the Gall ranges. Fires of varying size and strength also broke out in Lebanon and Palestine.

In Syria, the high temperatures caused fires to break out in agricultural and forested areas, especially on the Syrian coast, which witnessed widespread damage. The largest fires were in the countryside of Latakia Governorate, which lasted for five consecutive days in the coastal forest areas and required the intervention of Russian helicopters, along with Syrian ones, to extinguish them.

Professor Ahmed Kenawy believes that wildfires are common in these countries because of the typical Mediterranean climate: wet winters and dry, hot summers. “Symbolic cedar trees, for instance, are a common target of forest fires in Lebanon. The 2010 Carmel forest fire in Palestine was one of the deadliest in the country’s history. Importantly, the high rates of urbanization in these countries, especially in close proximity to forested areas, raise the danger of forest fires, especially those started by humans.”

Mitigation is a must

Theresa Wong, a geographer and Climate Change Officer in the FAO Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa, said that the region is highly vulnerable to climate change and that the climate is expected to be hotter and drier in the future. “Drought is a perfect condition for fires. It is not the only reason for wildfires in the region however as human activities such as deforestation and burning rubbish or agricultural waste close to the forest also cause wildfires.”

She explained to The New Arab that wildfires have significant environmental impacts, affecting various ecosystems and natural processes. Some of the major environmental impacts of wildfires include loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, maintaining the water cycle, and air pollution. It also makes the livelihoods of people who rely on these forests difficult.

Wong mentioned that the FAO supported the creation of a regional network on forests and wildland fires (Near East Network on Wildlands Forest Fire, NENFIRE). “We supported countries to have a fire management plan, such as Morocco, Lebanon, and Algeria. It is important for countries to include fire mitigation processes in their national strategies to combat climate change.”

The professor of climatology affirmed that since wildfires know no international boundaries, fighting them may be more effective if done at the regional level. “In the affected regions, it is also crucial to establish buffer zones between wilderness and populated areas. Community participation in fire prevention efforts is also encouraged through volunteer fire departments.

Mohammed El-Said is the Science Editor at Daily News Egypt. His work has appeared in Science Magazine, Nature Middle East, Scientific American Arabic Edition, SciDev and other prominent regional and international media outlets. Follow on Twitter: @MOHAMMED2SAID

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