Statement by João Frazão, Member of the Political Committee of the Central Committee, Press conference

On the situation of the forest and fires

On the situation of the forest and fires

A long period of drought, with a significant part of the country in a situation of severe or extreme drought, associated with a concentrated period of high temperatures, are the first reason for, in the period of just over a week, the country to go from a quite small burned area to one that is already larger, even double, than the entire burned area in 2020. And we still have a lot of summer ahead of us. 

However, the country has had decades of debate on the defence of the Portuguese forest and on the prevention and fighting of fires, with tighter moments after great fires, like those in 2003, 2005, 2017 and 2018.

Each of these moments always resulted in a considerable collection of reports, legislation, directives, orders, redefinition of means and announcements, many announcements.

Five years have passed since the tragic episodes of June and October 2017, which resulted in more than a hundred deaths, hundreds of thousands of hectares burned, in a hitherto unknown destruction, in terms of forest, agriculture, livestock, housing, public infrastructure, businesses.

Five years ago, the Government announced the biggest Forest Reform since the time of king D. Dinis. Five years later, life has proved that there is a lot to be done on the ground.

The structural causes that were identified and were confirmed have yet to be addressed– abandonment of the rural world, degradation of public services (education, healthcare, postal services, transport, Social Security), destruction of small and medium-sized agriculture, replacement of agricultural production areas by undergrowth or monoculture forest - that result in desertification and depopulation.

It is still necessary to ensure adequate means and the necessary coordination for the civil protection forces and, in particular, for the firefighters, who are currently experiencing a desperate situation, in particular due to the increase in fuel costs.

Many of the immediate measures decided in the wake of the 2017 tragedies have yet to be implemented - complete the forest registry that, even in a simplified version, continues to be put off, create teams of forest firefighters to reach the goal of 500 and reconstitute the corps of forest guards, as was approved several times in the Parliament.

The Primary Network of Forest Fuel Management remains to be completed, and still has to launch a €50 million planned tender, within the scope of the Recovery and Resilience Plan, and there is still a huge delay in achieving the reduction of biomass in critical areas through controlled fire, far from the targets and rhythms that the Government itself had set down in the Council of Ministers Resolution.

It is still necessary to valorise the price of timber, an essential condition for decisively investing on forest planning, to ensure its active management, promote the free association of small landowners, in particular through the Forest Intervention Areas -FIA, an instrument that has hardly seen any progress, and give an adequate impetus to the common lands groups and projects promoted by common lands.

It remains to be ensured, as recommended by the Independent Technical Commission, that public support is preferably directed to the regions where most fires occur, that is, the region of small land holdings in the Centre and North of the country.

There is still a need to strengthen public structures, namely the Institute of the Conservation of Nature and Forests-ICNF, and the coordination between them.

There is still a need to put an end to the interests of economic groups in forestry and territorial planning, which have outweighed collective interests in terms of civil protection, defence of national production and regional development.

Over these years, the Government has set its priorities on three objectives:

Firstly, give the idea that it was doing things so that, as the PCP said in 2017, when the fires came back it would have work to present. That is why it published a jungle of legislation, which hardly anyone understands and was busy announcing millions after millions that almost never reached the ground. One can well say that the Government announces and the forest burns.

Secondly, it tried to see every measure from the point of view of their weight on the deficit and not by the impacts on forest policy. Only in this way we can understand, the reluctance to ensure the means for carrying out the forest registry and transfer its responsibilities to the municipalities, the resistance to hire the lacking professionals, or the absence of response to the areas burned in 2017 and starting with the Leiria Pinelands.

Thirdly, to guarantee scapegoats, whether they be criminal hands (which there are also), feeding populist drives, or pointing out the small and medium-size landowners as culprits, insisting on individual accountability, which had the backing of the President of the Republic, to the point of issuing mindless bans on agricultural and livestock work.

The PCP in view of the known developments, insists on the proposals which it has successively presented and that were either rejected or ignored.

Proposals that, if implemented, will not put an end to the fires, but will prevent the brutality that we have seen in recent years and provide better conditions to fight them.

The PCP underlines four of these proposals:

  • Government intervention in the regulation of the timber market. It is essential that the market is transparent and that fair prices for production are ensured. For this, it is necessary to publicize prices in the various regions, an aspect that  the ICNF could ensure and which, despite the PCP having tabled this proposal, has not been implemented.
  • The defence of small and medium-sized agriculture and livestock husbandry, with its revitalization to ensure the settling of people in the rural world and the creation of buffer zones, particularly around population settlements.
  • Ensure the priority and concentration of support for FIAs and Common Lands in a swift and dedicated manner.
  • The valorisation of national firefighters, in particular with the constitution of a National Command and adequate funding, as well as the adoption of legislation on Facilities and Equipment Programming, and maintenance and requalification work in the fire stations, the purchase and maintenance of equipment.

In view of the obvious scale of the damage and impacts on the territory due to the fires that have been raging in Portugal in recent weeks, and quite certain that the days to come may still require new measures, the PCP has already questioned the European Commission as to the means that can be made available to support our country and regarding the structural measures to prevent these situations,  and presented a  draft resolution in the Assembly  of the Republic recommending that the Government apply criteria to support victims similar to those provided for in the  2017 Fire Victims Support Act, adopted on the basis of an initial proposal by the PCP, as well as a proposal to ensure immediate procedures with regard to the stabilization of emergency.

Expressing, once again, solidarity with the victims and appreciation for all those involved in the fight, the PCP stresses that only a different policy, patriotic and left-wing, in which the defence of the rural world and of national production are at the heart of the state's options and in which forest planning is a priority,  a policy that fights desertification and depopulation, which ensures employment and development in vast regions hitherto forgotten, will be able to create the necessary conditions to face every summer in a more serene way.

  • Ambiente
  • Economia e Aparelho Produtivo
  • Central