The European Union has doubled the capacity of its firefighting fleet, with 28 aircraft in total, for a summer that promises to be "intense" after major devastation in 2022. "This year is already much drier than average. And this drought, combined with the heat we expect, is of course a major driver of forest fires," Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said in an interview with the European Newsroom, which brings together European news agencies including AFP.
After a summer 2022 "the hottest recorded in Europe", Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced last September a doubling of the European fleet of water-bombing planes and helicopters.
The EU reserve, which is added to the rescue efforts of the countries hit by the fires, thus increases from 13 aircraft to 28, positioned in 10 Member States (Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden). They are ready to be deployed from June to October in the event of an emergency, to bring aid to a country with stretched resources. The EU finances the provision of these resources by national authorities.
These are 10 Canadairs, 14 light amphibious aircraft and four helicopters.
We have approximately doubled the number of devices and the capacity in terms of the volume of water that can be transported," said the Commissioner.
In addition, more than 400 firefighters are pre-positioned in Greece, France and Portugal, the official added, speaking from the EU's Emergency Response Coordination Centre.
A backup mechanism activated more than a hundred times a year
Now in its tenth year, the centre coordinates the delivery of aid to countries hit by major disasters around the world.
This EU civil protection mechanism has been used to send equipment, food and medicine to Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian offensive, or in response to the Covid-19 pandemic (sending vaccines to third countries, organising the repatriation of European citizens, etc.). More recently, he has helped people affected by the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
Established in 2001, the mechanism was activated an average of 20 times a year for the first 100 years and is now activated more than <> times a year, Lenarcic said, estimating that more financial resources should be allocated to it in the future.
Because of climate change, we are witnessing more and more frequent and intense natural disasters," he stressed, recalling the devastating floods of summer 2021 in Germany and Belgium as well as those currently affecting Italy.