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Algeria wildfires severely damaged Unesco-listed park, says expert

Fires across northeastern Algeria claimed dozens of lives in the past week
Algerian farmer Hamdi Gemidi checks his charred animals at his farm on the outskirts of the city of el-Tarf, on 18 August 2022 (AFP)

Wildfires that left dozens of people dead across northeastern Algeria may also have destroyed as much as 10 percent of a Unesco-listed biosphere, an expert said on Saturday.

The figure cited by Rafik Baba Ahmed, former director of the El Kala Biosphere Reserve, means that the burnt area of the park alone is almost double what the civil defence service said has been destroyed throughout Africa's largest country since June.

Algeria's northeast has been particularly hard-hit since Wednesday in blazes exacerbated by climate change, but the fire service on Saturday said most of the fires there had been put out.

At least 38 people have reportedly been killed.

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"The Wednesday fires damaged around 10,000 hectares" of the park, Baba Ahmed said.

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According to Unesco, the United Nations cultural agency, El Kala Biosphere Reserve covers more than 76,000 hectares.

It is the last refuge of the Barbary Red Deer and "home to a very remarkable bird life, more than 60,000 migratory birds every winter," Unesco's website says.

According to Baba Ahmed, forest covers 54,000 hectares of the park and most of the trees are cork oak.

"It is considered one of the main biodiversity reserves in the Mediterranean basin," he said, adding that he was "very pessimistic" about the area's future.

Civil Defence Colonel Boualem Boughlef said on television on Friday night that 1,242 fires have destroyed 5,345 hectares of woodlands in Algeria since 1 June.

Baba Ahmed said that figure was not realistic.

In 2021, fires that raged in the northeast of Algeria left around 90 people dead, including 33 soldiers who were deployed as firefighters, resulting in widespread anger in the country.

Last year's blazes resulted in more than 100,000 hectares of woodland burnt in a country where only one percent of the land is covered by forests.

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