Souheil Dib was eagerly awaiting the harvest of olives from his farm in Tartus, in western Syria, but fires have destroyed entire areas of Syria in recent days, leaving the branches of his olive trees charred.
61-year-old Dib inspects each branch of these trees inherited from his father for the slightest sign of life, but they all snap in his hands.
“It had a hundred trees,” he says resigned. “I have never seen a fire like it in my life.”
Favored by high temperatures, some 150 fire outbreaks broke out at dawn on Friday in the coastal provinces of Tartus and Latakia (west) as well as Homs (center), destroying more than 9,000 hectares of agricultural land, forests, orchards and olive groves , according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).
Three people died in Latakia, according to the health ministry, and 25,000 people have been evacuated in the three provinces, according to Ocha.
Authorities announced Sunday that they had controlled the fire. On Monday, the layer of ash that covered the disaster area was still smoky and the surrounding mountains were huge charred surfaces.
– “True catastrophe –
With the economic crisis that the country is suffering after more than nine years of war, Souheil Dib this year counted on the harvest to guarantee its needs for oil and olives.
“Our hopes were placed on this season to compensate for our successive losses (…) The olives were already ripe and fat and if it had not been for these fires we would be preparing today to harvest them”, laments this man who has spent his life taking care of these trees.
According to Ocha, the fires have affected some 140,000 people and damaged or destroyed homes and agricultural fields.
In Mashta al Helu, in the Tartus region, “the fires caused a lot of damage” and the “lands will take years to recover,” says Mayor Joseph Eid.
In the city, more than 65 farmers were affected by the fire.
This is the case of Ali Issa. Sitting on a stone with his back against a charred tree, he mourns the losses even though most of his crops have survived the fires.
“We have had very difficult conditions during the war,” he says. “But the fires have a different dimension. We are facing a real catastrophe.”
“We will replant not so much to eat but so that our children” enjoy it, he says, determined.
Despite the war that has decimated the economy, the country continued to produce large quantities of olive oil, one of the main export products.
The agriculture ministry had forecast a harvest of 850,000 tonnes of olives this season in August, compared to 665,000 last year.
Fires across the country have not only destroyed agricultural land, they have also razed homes and some industrial areas.
The forest fires have been widely reported on social media, in particular videos showing the damage left by the fire.
In neighboring Lebanon and Israel there have also been raging fires in recent days, which have been controlled, but in the latter thousands of people had to be evacuated, according to authorities.
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