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Fury in Algeria over "weak" government response to fires

After 2021 disaster, criticism of authorities over 2022 balance sheet
PHOTO/AFP  El agricultor argelino Hamdi Gemidi revisa sus animales carbonizados en su granja en las afueras de la ciudad de el-Tarf

PHOTO/AFP  -   Algerian farmer Hamdi Gemidi checks his charred animals on his farm on the outskirts of the town of el-Tarf

With fires ravaging the north of the country for the second year in a row, the Algerian government has come under fire. The death toll of 37 people and more than 14,000 hectares charred in the wilaya of Tarf has sparked a protest movement in the Maghreb country.

According to the latest figures provided by the Algerian Civil Protection Agency to the EFE news agency, the number of people killed in the fires now stands at 37. The Algerian authorities reported that at least 350 families had been evacuated to avoid more deaths. The three worst affected provinces are Tarf, Souk Ahras and Setif, all three in the north and east of the country.

Algerians are now asking who is responsible for this environmental, human and economic disaster and questioning the government's performance in dealing with the fires. Members of Algerian civil society point out that the government did not retain any lessons from the fires of the summer of 2021, the worst in the country's history, which claimed the lives of 90 people. 90 people were killed in the fires.

PHOTO/AFP - Una anciana argelina reacciona dentro de las ruinas de su casa, destruida por un incendio forestal en la ciudad de el-Kala, el 18 de agosto de 2022
PHOTO/AFP - An elderly Algerian woman reacts inside the ruins of her house, destroyed by a forest fire in the town of el-Kala, 18 August 2022

Algerian Interior Minister Kamal Beljoub appeared on national television to report on this terrible wave of fires and to speculate that the fires could be arson. In connection with this announcement, he promised severe sentences of 30 years or even life imprisonment for those guilty of arson. According to local media, at least three people have already been arrested by the Algerian authorities in the province of Tarf, suspected of setting the fires.
 
The promise of justice has not calmed the spirits of the Algerians, who accuse the government of having too few resources to fight the fires. The Russian-made Beriev aircraft, which was taking part in the fire-fighting effort, suffered a breakdown that left it totally unable to continue the fire-fighting work.

It is Algeria's only fire-fighting aircraft. It is also reportedly leased. The Algerian air force is usually involved in fire-fighting with helicopters carrying water rafts, although they are less effective and cover less area than the fire-fighting planes.

PHOTO/AFP - Un hombre comprueba los daños en su casa, destruida por un incendio forestal en la ciudad argelina de el-Kala, el 18 de agosto de 2022
PHOTO/AFP - A man checks the damage to his house destroyed by a forest fire in the Algerian city of el-Kala, 18 August 2022

The government pledged after the 2021 fires to increase aerial resources to fight the fires, but there is no news that more means have arrived from Russia or any other Algerian partner country. The Algerian government has not commented on the lack of resources.

The prime minister of the Tebboune government did appear to give some explanations and details about the fires and their victims. Amine Benabderrahmane told the media that the vegetation, the high temperatures and the gusts of wind over the past week were elements that worsened the fire situation. He also announced a series of measures to help financially those who have suffered material losses in this fire episode.