The toll of the fires in Algeria strikes the conscience: 75 dead, for a toll probably still provisional, although the authorities believe that the fires are now under control. This assessment raises questions, while the huge fires this summer in Greece, Turkey or even the United States do not approach at all, and by far, this number of victims. Why such a record? Is Algeria under equipped or are the accusations on the criminal nature of these fires, brought by the authorities, credible? 20 Minutes asked social movements specialist in Algeria, Ghribil Shams.
Is Algeria equipped to deal with fires?
The country is not equipped with Canadair. This is one of the elements which proves that this country has an approach to security and civil protection which has remained very classic. An old-fashioned approach, which has not evolved, which has not adapted because Algeria is a country that has focused a lot on the fight against terrorism, prevention and the fight against classic threats. But threats that are unconventional have not really been integrated by a whole generation of public policies, of security officials.
A law was passed to deal with earthquakes because it is a seismic zone, but not for anything that was unconventional threat, such as a mass fire or even an epidemic type, such as for the Covid-19. We have seen that there is really an enormous fragility to do prevention, but also to fight and treat the problem, as the countries of the sub-region have done. The law passed a few years ago applied more to floods and, to a certain extent, to earthquakes. These are the threats that we know, which arrive cyclically in Algeria. But what is happening now is completely new.
Fires, it has already happened regularly in Algeria all the same …
It was micro fires compared to what is happening today. Today it is all the west of the country, more than 70 municipalities, on one of the most important forest areas in the western Mediterranean, which is on fire. We are therefore on something completely new, which nevertheless raises the question of the absence of Canadairs. But while this lack of hardware is shocking, their presence would not have fundamentally changed the problem.
Because of the scale of the fires. It is not a forest fire as we know them around the Mediterranean basin every summer. It is way beyond. It could be that these are premeditated acts. Of course there are climatic conditions, the heat wave, there is all the climatic upheaval that the entire Mediterranean is experiencing, but this situation has been exploited to amplify the problem. Even if there had been two Canadairs, like some neighbors including Morocco, even if there were five or even ten, the problem would not have changed significantly. It is mass destruction, it is a mass terrorist act.
The concomitance of the fire starts is striking. Everyone understood that there was something that was not natural, but that there were voluntary acts, taking advantage of the heatwave and the usual fires. Now we will have to wait to see which organizations could have exploited this situation to carry out an act of mass destruction like this. There was indeed a speech by the president, he spoke of two groups but without naming them. The threat has been clearly denounced but not named and in any case not identified for the moment.
Do the president’s accusations seem credible to you?
Of course, considering the concomitance of fires, their numbers and also the testimonies which go up at the level of the communes and the villages. There are already many testimonies from local populations who were the first to find tire tracks near the fires. What the president declared yesterday is not of the order of conspiracy discourse as the usual regime can have, which regularly accuses the hand of foreigners, etc. We are in something that is corroborated by testimonies everywhere, in all departments.
I think we have to be attentive to these crimes, to these acts of mass destruction which are completely new, unconventional. The modus operandi is completely unusual and that is what will be difficult to understand, to decipher over time. We will have to put things in perspective and it will not be easy in a country where there are many points of tension, with Kabylia, Hirak, a weak regime. The regional situation is also unusually tense with Morocco, with Israel, Libya and Mali.