Four Dead From ‘Worst On Record’ Cyprus Fire

A huge wildfire raging in Cyprus has left four dead and a trail of destruction in its wake. On 4 July, Civil Defense volunteers found the victims outside the village of Odou, which lies along the southern edge of the Troodos mountains. The men were all aged from 22 to 29 and had been reported missing on Saturday. The Egyptian government confirmed that the four deceased were Egyptian labourers, and according to Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, “All the indications support the fact that these are the four missing persons we have been searching for.” Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were monitoring the situation and preparing to repatriate the remains as soon as possible. 

The fire began on 3 July outside Arakapas and spread rapidly, fanned by strong winds. It razed over 50 square kilometers in the foothills of the Troodos mountain range, a region composed of dense pine forest and shrub land, which provided ample fuel for the flames. It also destroyed 50 homes, damaged infrastructure and forced the evacuation of 10 villages. On 5 July, the Cyprus Forestry Department reported that the fire was under control. Countries like Israel, Britain, Greece and Italy contributed to firefighting and search and rescue operations. The cause of the blaze is still unclear, although Cypriot police are questioning a 67-year-old farmer in connection with the fire.

Director of the Department of Forests, Charalambos Alexandrou, has described it as “the worst forest fire in the history of Cyprus.” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades supported this assessment, saying it was “one of the most destructive (fires) we have experienced, unfortunately, with victims.” In a show of support for affected people, he also toured fire-hit regions.

The cooperation demonstrated between Cyprus and European countries in response to this fire is commendable. In terms of emergency needs, it strengthened local capacity, thereby saving lives and property. It also proves that given sufficient motivation, such cooperation is possible. However, to save lives and alleviate human suffering, prevention is always preferable to a cure. The international community must recognize the costs of climate change, which contributes to environmental conditions conducive to wildfires, and work together to reduce emissions before it is too late.

The wildfires in Cyprus took place amidst an extended heatwave and drought conditions. In the days prior, the country had been experiencing temperatures around 40 °C. However, this disaster was not unprecedented. In 2020, wildfires in Australia, California and Brazil reflected a trend toward more intense and frequent disasters. According to NASA, 2020 was one of the warmest years on record, as it reached 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels. This level is approaching the 1.5°C threshold set by climate experts, beyond which the most dangerous impacts of climate change will be felt.

Ultimately, climate change has short and long term implications for international peace and security. In the short term, climate change threatens human security. For example, in Cyprus, those whose livelihoods depended on the region will now likely face income instability while waiting for it to regrow. In the long term, it is expected to contribute to extreme weather events, natural resource shortages, economic losses, lower crop yields and higher sea levels. In response, governments need to develop programs that enhance local capacity and cater to the reality of an increased number of people displaced by natural disasters and climate refugees. Now, more than ever, the international community must commit to climate change targets and work together to establish a viable framework for emission reduction.