Socialist Worker

Algerian government fiddles as country burns

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2768

People attempt to put out a fire in Tizi Ouzou province, east of Algiers

People attempt to put out a fire in Tizi Ouzou province, east of Algiers (Pic: REUTERS/Abdelaziz Boumzar)


At least 71 people have died in Algeria as forest fires sweep through large parts of the north African country.

The fundamental cause is the rising temperatures and climate chaos that has also seen raging fires in many other parts of the world.

This is the reality of climate change—soaring heat, spreading drought and walls of fire.

Matthew Jones is a research fellow at the University of East Anglia's Centre for Climate Change Research. He said the average number of days where the Mediterranean faces extreme fire weather conditions had roughly doubled since the 1980s.

“Climate change is forcing Mediterranean landscapes into a flammable state more regularly by drying out vegetation and priming it to burn,” he said.

Last week Tunisia, which borders Algeria, recorded an all-time high with a temperature of over 50 degrees centigrade in Kairouan.

Wildfires are common in Algeria. In 2020, nearly 44,000 hectares of Algerian forests went up in smoke—a hectare is about the size of an international football field.

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But the scale and ferocity of the fires grows as temperatures rise.

An assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that temperatures across the Mediterranean are likely to rise faster than the global average in the decades to come.

Tens of millions more people will face heightened risk of water shortages, coastal flooding and exposure to potentially deadly extreme heat, it warns.

The Algerian death toll so far includes 43 civilians and 28 soldiers. The Algerian state has released much information about the military dead, far less about the villagers who perished.

Labourers 

Many of those who died are rural labourers living in desperate poverty who were trying to protect their homes and crops. At least 26 deaths were reported in the villages of Agulmim and Ikhlidjene.

People have shared images on shared media of trapped villagers, terrified livestock and forested hillsides reduced to blackened stumps.

Villagers forced to evacuate in order to escape the flames began trickling back to their homes, overwhelmed by the scale of the damage.

“I have nothing left. My workshop, my car, my flat. Even the tiles were destroyed,” one of them told the AFP news agency. But he said he had “managed to save his family”, adding that “neighbours died or lost their relatives”.

The state has been criminally complacent about the threat. In June there were forest fires in the Khenchela area. But there was no serious preparation for further blazes of the mobilisation of resources such as firefighting aircraft.

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These have only now begun to be deployed. European powers that could have supplied such planes have been very slow to act.

Disgustingly the Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tried to obscure the authorities’ lack of preparation by saying the majority of fires are “of criminal origin”.

He announced the arrest of 22 alleged arsonists, including 11 in Tizi Ouzou, a large town in Kabylia, a region that has frequently rebelled against the central power.

Algeria has been in revolt for two years.

Two months ago millions of people boycotted elections as a sign of their continuing opposition to the ruling regime.

Turnout was just 30 percent, the lowest in at least 20 years for legislative elections. It was the first legislative election since protests in 2019 forced former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office after a 20year rule.

Real power remains with the armed forces.

The fires are a condemnation of the global capitalist system that produces climate change, and of Algeria’s rulers.


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