Cry from the road
Volume 1, Oct 2005
Portugal burns in silence
The country looks on passively
The road meanders through the harvest. Women clad in black prepare a picnic banquet for the men folk gathering the grapes. From here the route climbs through forested hills and small villages looking down into a steep gorge. The scent of eucalypt and pine predominates. Cork trees sport the year of their last harvest in clear white digits. The evening sun throws long shadows and paints a rich orange hue… Or so it was, some four years ago.
Now, black is the colour, charred wood is the scent and evening sun does its best to camoflague the desolation. The smoke on the horizon is a reminder that it’s not all over.
Afonso, a local farmer shrugs his shoulders in defeat. “What can we do? It happens every summer and nothing is done about it.” Most blame the drought for the extensive forest fires this year, Afonso points out that there is an economic interest and a system behind it. Two were jailed for initiating the fires on his land, but not the ones who hired them to do it.
What’s really frustrating is that the water shortage is constantly used as a scapegoat, although only 1% of the Portuguese population is affected by water restrictions. Golf courses are the main target of criticism in the local press, but no one asks how or why the fires started. Could it be that the paper industry has a vested interest too? Now as we approach the date for local elections, huge billboards adorn these black forests advertising smiling candidates’ promises to build a better future. How do they propose to do that? None were available for comment.
The fires continue, but it’s the huge indifference that’s the real catastrophy. “That’s life in Portugal” is a chorus too often heard in these hills. Now that almost half the country has been destroyed, the burning question is: what will it take for someone to shout stop?