Posts Tagged ‘eucalyptus’

Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires

June 19, 2017


© AFP / by Laurence COUSTAL | Heat waves have become more frequent in Portugal, say experts

PARIS (AFP) – Highly exposed to global warming’s climate-altering impacts, Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires such as the one — still raging — that has killed at least 60 people this weekend, experts say.- Why Portugal, why now? –

The Iberian peninsula encompassing Portugal and Spain is experiencing a warmer, drier June than usual, explains Thomas Curt, a researcher at France’s Irstea climate and agriculture research institute.

Added to that, the country has vast expanses of highly inflammable plants, including forests of pine and eucalyptus trees.

“Hotter air is synonymous with drier and more inflammable vegetation,” said Curt. “The more the mercury climbs, so does the risk of fires and their intensity.”

Temperatures in the region have warmed by more than the global average over the past half century, according to a 2014 review of climate change impacts on Portugal.

Heat waves have become more frequent, and annual rainfall slightly less, said the review published in the journal WIREs Climate Change.

More frequent and pronounced heat waves are expected in future, accompanied by a “substantial increase” in fire risk — “both in severity and in length of the fire season,” it said.

– Does global warming boost forest fire risk? –

“It is certain — we are experiencing a rise in temperatures,” said Curt.

The Northern hemisphere summer has lengthened over the past 50 years from July-to-August, to June-to-October now — meaning a longer fire risk season.

There has been an increase in major fires of more than 100 hectares, and so-called “megafires” of more than 1,000 hectares, the researcher added.

“It is truly a growing problem everywhere in the world, and notably in Mediterranean Europe.”

These mega blazes remain rare — only about 2-3 percent of all fires — but are responsible for about three-quarters of all surface burnt.

“Many analyses of climate change show that these major fires will become more and more likely,” said Curt.

– What to do? –

In the short term, reinforce firefighting capacity, deploy patrols, set up watchtowers to raise the alarm, and ban fire-making everywhere.

Over the longer term, human settlements and green areas will need to be substantially redesigned, experts say.

Some forest will have to be cut back, undergrowth cleared, and residential areas moved further from scrubland and forest borders, to reduce the risk to life and property.

“The focus of efforts should shift from combating forest fires as they arise to preventing them from existing, through responsible long-term forest management,” green group WWF said.

“Responsible forest management is more effective and financially more efficient than financing the giant firefighting mechanisms that are employed every year.”

In the yet longer term, added Curt, “of course, we need to curtail global warming itself.”

by Laurence COUSTAL

Vietnam Holiday and Vacation Ideas

July 22, 2013

By  Dea Birkett

As I trudge through the jungle, I flinch at  the sharp sound of AK-47s being  fired at a nearby shooting range.

‘And on your left, another crater,’ says  guide  An Dung, leading us over the pitted, hardened red earth and through a  eucalyptus  grove. The crater was made by a B-52 bomber. This is Cu Chi, about  20 miles  outside Ho Chi Minh City where, during the Vietnam War, Viet Cong  guerillas hid  from the Americans in a 200-mile network of  tunnels.

Outside the Citadel of Hue, Vietnam.Battle ground: Hue’s Imperial Citadel was seized from  the Americans in 1968

US troops withdrew  from the country 40 years  ago, yet there are still so many reminders of the war,  including these tunnels.  While four decades ago Westerners who arrived in Saigon  (since renamed Ho Chi  Minh City in honour of the iconic North Vietnamese  communist leader) were armed  with semi-automatic rifles, they now carry the  latest cameras, and factor 30  sun cream is the only defence you need.

The  former battle sites of this country, once so bitterly divided between the  communist North and the anti-communist South, are popular tourist  destinations.

From Ho Chi Minh City in the south to the  northern capital  Hanoi, the Vietnamese are proud to display their victory over  mightier forces  during what they call the American War.


Clambering  into the Cu Chi  tunnels is a living history lesson. The manhole-size entrances,  hidden under  fallen palm fronds, have been widened for the tourists. It’s a  good job too – I  wouldn’t be able to get in otherwise. The Vietnamese are  petite.

It’s total darkness underground, and I have  to feel my way along  the clay walls. Sometimes, the ceiling is so low I have to  crawl to reach the  next tiny chamber. It is like being incarcerated in a hard,  cold box while  wearing a blindfold.

The Viet Cong hid down here for months. I  stayed for  ten minutes before I fled for the exit, climbing up towards the  light and the  silhouette of an M41 tank captured from the Americans. Such  spoils litter the  jungle.

Guide demonstrates getting into the .Reminders of conflict: A guide emerges from a Cu Chi  tunnel, built by the Viet Cong and famous for its tiny dimensions

Even above ground, life was pretty tough for  the guerillas. An  Dung fed me mashed tapioca root with salt and sugar – the  Viet Cong’s staple  diet. It tasted like cold porridge, only  worse.

As I ate, more gunfire  cracked through the  trees. It was coming from the range at the tunnels, where  tourists can select a  semiautomatic weapon of their choice and shoot at  imaginary foes. I had reached  Cu Chi after taking an hour-long speedboat journey  along the Saigon River from  Ho Chi Minh City.

In the throbbing capital  city, the main  sound isn’t gunfire but the ‘fut fut’ of more than ten million  mopeds swarming  around the streets. Each bike carries two, three or four people,  including  babies. The riders look like ninjas as scarves cover most of their  face to keep  out the fumes.

I had my own skirmishes with these road  warriors – there are no crossing points so our guide issued the following  advice: simply step slowly into the stream of two-wheeled traffic, and don’t  stop  or make any sudden movements, otherwise you will just jump into the path  of  another bike. No one stops for pedestrians – the motorbikes just go around  you.  It’s terrifying.

At least it was easy to find my way around.  Vietnamese  cities have what can only be called ‘zoned shopping’. All the shops  in the same  street sell a single item or service.

Women carry goods to market in Ho Chi Minh City.Bright outlook: Women carry goods to market in Ho Chi  Minh City

For example, the street where my  hotel was  located sold only mobile phones. The next street sold plastic flowers.  The  next, spare parts for mopeds. Each street is named after what it sells. So  when  I needed a camera battery, I just had to ask for camera battery street.  Simple.

In Ho Chi Minh City, it’s not easy to forget  the war. In the  courtyard of the War Remnants Museum, I posed in front of  captured American  tanks, camouflaged reconnaissance planes and a Huey  helicopter.

The  Historical Truths and Aggressive War  Crimes galleries inside showed the human  cost of conflict, with photos of  families fleeing US attacks.

The Tet  Offensive by Viet Cong forces, the  My Lai massacre and the fall of Saigon are  all detailed here. The giant faded  casualty charts are chilling. There’s no  attempt at objectivity. This is a  portrait of the war as seen through communist  eyes. There’s even a wall naming  and shaming those US soldiers who committed the  so-called  crimes.

The Americans aren’t Vietnam’s only recent  invaders.  Before them, the French were the country’s colonial masters, and they  planted  the huge trees that provide welcome shade along Ho Chi Minh City’s wide  boulevards.

School Girls in Ho Chi Minh City.All aboard: Children get a lift to school in Ho Chi  Minh

They also left behind a cluster of ornate  buildings,  including a grand opera house with a sweeping staircase, a hotel de  ville with  crystal chandeliers (it’s now the People’s Committee Building), and  a cathedral  named Notre Dame.

I spent an evening looking over what remains  of Old  Saigon from the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel, where foreign  journalists  stayed during the war.

I tried to imagine what it was like when the  sound  above wasn’t whirring fans that help keep customers cool but the rotors  of US  helicopters, and the sound below not that of mopeds but rumbling  tanks.

Dea discovers more about the brutal 20th century clash at the War Remnants Museum.History lesson: Dea discovers more about the brutal 20th  century clash at the War Remnants Museum

Afterwards I took a taxi back to my hotel,  and Hotel California by The Eagles  blasted out from the car radio, while a  golden Buddha figure bounced up and down  on the driver’s  dashboard.

Along the way we passed women carrying bamboo  poles that held baskets of produce. I also counted the golden tips of pagodas,  and understood why people can’t help but fall in love with this  land.

During my trip, I followed the invaders’  route northwards, towards  central Vietnam, the region that saw the most  ferocious  fighting.

Fortunately, these are more peaceful times  and on my arrival at  the Pilgrimage Village hotel on the outskirts of Hue, the  only sound was the  pit-pat of flip-flops on the stone tiled pathways around the  lush gardens. At  night, there was the squawk from the nearby karaoke bar (the  Vietnamese are  devotees).

But even in this prosperous city crowded with  modern office  blocks, the American War is still evident. I took a cyclo  (bicycle rickshaw)  across the Perfume River to Hue’s vast Imperial Citadel,  encased by a moat and  eight-mile ring of thick ramparts. In the early 19th  Century, the Imperial  Enclosure and Forbidden Purple City within them were the  centre of Vietnam’s  royal court.

During the Tet Offensive in 1968, the  communists seized the  Imperial Citadel from the Americans and defiantly raised  a giant National  Liberation Front flag over it. It flies there today, a symbol  of  resistance.

The imperial buildings are still pock-marked  as a result of  bullets and shell fire, and the process of reconstruction, which  has been going  on since the American tanks left, is due to be finished by  2025.

I spent  a day walking between half-ruined  temples, a royal theatre, a pagoda on an  island surrounded by a lake, the  emperor’s reading room and yet more fine  museums. Further north, in Hanoi, even  the cells that held American prisoners  have been turned into a  museum.

A tourist tests an AK-47 at the firing range near the Cu Chi tunnels.Taking aim: A tourist tests an AK-47 at the firing range  near the Cu Chi tunnels

If you believed the displays at Hoa Lo  Prison, you would think it was a former holiday camp – there are examples of  starched shirts worn by US troops, their fine leather sandals and even their  half-smoked cigarettes.

The PoWs ironically nicknamed it the Hanoi  Hilton  because of the appalling conditions in which they lived. US Senator John  McCain  was held here after his aircraft was shot down over the city’s Truc Bach  Lake  and he claims to have been tortured. Nevertheless, there’s a statue  dedicated to  him where he was pulled out of the water.

However, there are plenty of  peaceful  pursuits too, and an early morning walk around the Hoan Kiem Lake is  recommended. As the mist rises, workers do t’ai chi classes and old men sit  down  for a game of chess close to a scarlet bridge that leads to a  temple.

One  night, I took in a show at the Water  Puppet Theatre. Originally staged in paddy  fields and lakes, the puppeteers  wade waist-deep into water while working dozens  of painted balsa-light puppets  on long wooden poles, making them splash, skim  and dance. The puppets act out  Vietnamese legends with the help of a live band  playing traditional  instruments.

There was conflict in the show – the  dragon  seemed to have a fight with the fairy, and the tigers were definitely  attacking  the farmers. But after what I’d seen elsewhere in this country, this  was  playful stuff.

My trip to Vietnam had not just taken me to  another  country – it helped me understand a war I only vaguely remembered from  my  childhood. It showed me the scars of conflict. It made me  think.

Travel Facts

Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859,  offers seven  nights in Vietnam from £1,989 per person, including flights with  Cathay Pacific  from Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City and returning from Hanoi,  three nights’  accommodation at the capital’s Hotel Equatorial, two nights at  the Pilgrimage  Village Resort & Spa near Hue, and two at the Moevenpick  Hotel in Hanoi, all  on a B&B basis. The price includes internal flights and  private transfers.

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Ha Long Bay

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