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Wildfire season is upon us: Here's what the EU is putting in place

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Wildfire season is upon us: Here's what the EU is putting in place

Following a devastating summer of fires across Europe last year, the EU has upped its resources to prevent widespread damage in 2024.

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With summer just around the corner, we’re all dreaming of sunshine and swimming in the sea – but with the hot weather comes the risk of wildfires.

That’s where the European Union comes in. From June, they’re putting in place measures to bolster firefighting efforts in order to better protect communities across Europe – and the surrounding environment.

Following devastating fires in 2023 – recorded as some of the very worst this century – the EU has put together a team of 556 firefighters from 12 countries.

They’ll be strategically placed across key locations in Europe this summer, including in high risk areas like France, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

Local fire brigades can find themselves overwhelmed when the scale of a wildfire outsizes the response capabilities of a country.

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The EU are also introducing a dedicated rescue fleet of firefighting aircraft, which will consist of 28 aeroplanes and 4 helicopters stationed in 10 of the bloc’s Member States.

There’s also €600 million in extra EU funds which will go towards buying 12 further firefighting planes in the future, which will be distributed among six Member States – as well as several helicopters.

Here’s what four of the countries involved are planning to do this summer to save lives, livelihoods and protect the environment when wildfire season arrives.

France

Météo-France recently announced they believe the summer of 2024 will likely be hotter than usual – especially in the Mediterranean region.

Last year, 22,400 hectares of forests were lost to wildfires. Using that tragic example, France has put in place some 3,600 firefighters and 600 vehicles, whose role will be to strengthen the resources of the Departmental Fire and Rescue Service – known as the SDIS.

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The resources come from regions typically less affected by forest fires and will bolster the work done by departments more likely to experience them.

France also has twelve Canadair CL-415s planes, which can each carry more than 6,000 litres of water. Two of them are positioned in Ajaccio in Corsica and the other ten in Nîmes.

They’ll be supported by a further eight Dash planes – seven based in Nîmes and another in Bordeaux. They can each carry 10,000 litres of water.

As of 1 June, they’ll be on active service as and when they are needed alongside a number of other aircraft with firefighting capabilities.

Portugal

2023 was an intense year of wildfires for Portugal and, as such, the country’s rural firefighting system will be reinforced from 1 June for the second time this year.

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Ahead of the summer season, there will be some 12,096 operational units and 70 aircraft available for use.

Many of the people involved in the Special Rural Fire Fighting Device (DECIR) are volunteer firefighters. Others will be drawn from the Special Civil Protection Force, military personnel from the National Republican Guard and also from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests.

Unlike in France, Portugal will not be using Canadair planes, apparently due to difficulties in the market. That came as a surprise to the crews who had been carrying out this service for over 20 years.

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With the weather heating up from July, resources are set to be reinforced again from the first of the month until 30 September – the period considered as the most critical phase of fires.

In that three month stretch, 14,155 operational personnel from 3,162 teams will be on standby this year, as well as 3,173 vehicles – which is a slight increase compared to 2023.

Spain

2023 saw hundreds of thousands of hectares of woodland destroyed in Spain, as well as more than 3,000 people forced to evacuate the Canary Island of Tenerife in the summer season.

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From 1 June, the Spanish state forest fire campaign is in place. Taking in consideration the tragedies of last year, authorities have introduced a more robust plan to more effectively fight any potential forest fires occurring in different areas of the country.

Last month, at a meeting of the State Coordination and Direction Committee (CECOD) in Spain, politicians came together to finalise plans.

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It includes the Forest Fire Reinforcement Brigades (BRIF) and a fleet of high-capacity seaplanes, which is operated by the 43 Group of the Air and Space Army.

The Military Emergency Unit of the Ministry of Defence and the Civil Guard and National Police will be able to support devices put in place by the country’s various autonomous communities.

Catalonia has historically been one of the worst affected regions in Spain.

The acting Minister of the Interior, Joan Ignasi Elena, highlighted that it “faces an extremely complex campaign, which is not temporary and which has severe consequences.”

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As a result, 240 new firefighters have been recruited to join hundreds of others.

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The Corps of Rural Agents has gone from having about 500 troops to a total of 620 in the face of the increased forest fire campaign.

There will also be 22 aircraft including planes and helicopters, with 4 amphibious craft located in Sabadell and Empuriabrava, supported by 821 cars and vans.

Less than halfway through the year, 2024 has been recorded as one of the driest ever in Catalonia in decades.

Between 1 January and 15 May 15 this year, firefighters have already battled 1,750 vegetation fires. That figure is slightly down on last year, though, thanks to heavy April rains.

Despite this, authorities have installed 5 levels to their climate emergency plan – meaning that they are as prepared as possible to fight any potential blazes ahead.

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Italy

“Good prevention, with the full involvement of municipalities and citizens, can serve to save thousands of hectares of vegetation,” Nello Musumeci, the Minister for Civil Protection in Italy said at a meeting earlier this spring.

Called to address this summer’s forest fire fighting campaign, the meeting was attended by representatives of Italy’s regions (ANCI), the Fire Brigade, the Armed Forces, as well as the Ministries of the Interior, Defence, Environment, Agriculture and Economy.

Italy is currently facing temperatures well above the usual, which have a knock on effect on the availability of water.

The south of the country and the islands are particularly likely to be affected, but all administrations in Italy have prepared contingencies for both forest fires and those in built up areas.

As well as this, Musumeci has made sure to put in place a widespread campaign of raising awareness among populations via the media.

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While many fires are due to climate change, he has a further plan.

“I will suggest the opportunity for greater surveillance in rural areas to discourage arsonists and criminals in their senseless purposes,” Musumeci suggests, “let’s remember that the vast majority of fires are caused by humans, through fault or malice.”

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U.S. bus company Coach files for bankruptcy to sell its business

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U.S. bus company Coach files for bankruptcy to sell its business
Coach USA, the operator of Megabus and other commuter bus lines in the U.S. and Canada, filed for bankruptcy protection in Delaware late Tuesday, seeking to sell its assets and shed debt incurred in an ill-timed 2019 private equity buyout.
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Mexico finds the remains of some of the 63 miners who died 18 years ago

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Mexico finds the remains of some of the 63 miners who died 18 years ago

Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that they found the remains of some of the 63 miners who were trapped 18 years ago in a coal mine in northern Mexico.

The accident occurred at the Pasta de Conchos mine in the state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, on Feb. 19, 2006. Of the 73 miners on duty, eight survived with serious burns, and two bodies were recovered.

2 MEXICAN COAL MINERS KILLED IN ACCIDENT AT ILLEGAL MINE

The Interior ministry said Wednesday that after years of searching they were able to locate “the first human remains” in one of the mine’s chambers, but they did not specify when the remains were recovered.

The accident is considered one of the biggest mining tragedies in the country.

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Pedestrians walk by a sculpture of a bright red number 65 that pays homage to the coal miners killed in the 2006 Pasta de Conchos mine accident, in Mexico City. Authorities announced on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, the discovery of the skeletal remains of some of the 63 miners who have remained missing for almost two decades. Sixty-five miners died in the explosion, but authorities only found two of the miners’ bodies.  (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

It wasn’t until 2020 when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a promise to recover the bodies that the process began. Three consecutive governments opted not to try for the rest, saying it would be too dangerous and costly, with no guarantee of success. But victims’ relatives continued to press authorities on the issue over the years.

López Obrador put the Federal Electricity Commission, the nation’s public utility known as the CFE, in charge of the dig – mining and burning coal to reach the long-buried miners.

In the chamber where remains were found there were 13 miners working the day of the accident, according to the Interior ministry.

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The government indicated it has not yet determined if an explosion caused the mine’s collapse.

The Coahuila state prosecutor’s office, in collaboration with the National Search Commission and the National Institute of Genomics Medicine, will begin analyzing the remains for identification and try to determine the cause of the accident.

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Significant part of Gaza facing ‘famine-like conditions’, WHO says

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Significant part of Gaza facing ‘famine-like conditions’, WHO says

Thousands of Palestinian children in Gaza have been diagnosed with malnutrition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, as Israel continues to severely restrict supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel to the territory.

“A significant proportion of Gaza’s population is now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Wednesday.

“Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food.”

Tedros said 8,000 children under five years old have been diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition in Gaza.

“However, due to insecurity and lack of access, only two stabilisation centres for severely malnourished patients can operate,” the WHO chief added.

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Tedros said 32 deaths in the besieged Palestinian enclave have been attributed to malnutrition.

United Nations officials have warned of the risk of famine as Israel continues its war on Gaza. In January, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to “ensure the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza”.

The UN’s top court reasserted that ruling in March, demanding that Israel take “all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay… the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance”.

Some of Israel’s closest allies, including the United States, have also called for more aid to enter Gaza and reach people in need.

Last month, Israel seized and shut down the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which had served as a major gateway for aid and humanitarian workers.

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Last month, International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on charges of alleged war crimes, including using “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”.

A UN-backed independent commission also accused Israel of inflicting hunger on Palestinians.

“In relation to Israeli military operations and attacks in Gaza, the Commission found that Israeli authorities are responsible for the war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare, murder or wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, forcible transfer, sexual violence, torture and inhuman or cruel treatment, arbitrary detention and outrages upon personal dignity,” the panel said in a report on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week that Israel has taken “important steps” in recent months to remove obstacles to aid delivery in Gaza, but he acknowledged that it “can and must do more”.

“It is crucial to speed up the inspection of trucks and reduce backlogs; to provide greater clarity on – and shorten the list of – prohibited goods; to increase visas for aid workers and to process them more quickly,” he said at a Gaza aid conference in Jordan on Tuesday.

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Blinken, who announced $404m in new assistance to Palestinians, also called for “clearer, more effective channels” to protect humanitarian workers from military operations.

Israeli attacks have killed at least 270 aid workers in Gaza, including seven World Central Kitchen employees in April – an incident that sparked global outrage.

Aid organisations have been stressing that even the inadequate aid that gets into Gaza often fails to reach people who need it most because of the Israeli offensive.

“The US’s latest humanitarian package for Gaza is a welcome step,” the International Rescue Committee said on Wednesday. “However, the effective delivery of any financial package depends wholly on unfettered access for aid and the ability for aid workers to operate seamlessly.”

Beyond Gaza, the WHO’s Tedros highlighted a growing health crisis in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have killed hundreds of people since the outbreak of the war.

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“WHO has documented 480 attacks on healthcare in the West Bank since the seventh of October last year, resulting in 16 deaths and 95 injuries,” he said.

In one major incident, undercover Israeli forces raided a hospital in Jenin and killed three people inside the medical centre.

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