Wildfires in Algeria have ravaged one of the country’s most treasured nature reserves, officials said.
El Kala National Park and Biosphere Reserve was recognised by Unesco in 1990 as a “mosaic of marine, dune, lake and forest ecosystems". A national park since 1983, the mountainous and heavily forested coastal area also features a network of wetlands, protected under the international Ramsar Convention, otherwise known as the Convention on Wetlands.
About 13 per cent of the park was destroyed by wildfire, or 4,045 of more than 30,750 hectares, which have swept across the north of the country throughout this month.
The reserve, which received substantial assistance from the World Bank after its Unesco designation, hosts one of the last wild habitats of the endangered Barbary stag.
Kamel Beldjoud, Algeria's Interior Minister, said some of an estimated 100 fires, which have killed 38 people, may have been started intentionally. Algeria’s Civil Defence Ministry put the number of fires since June at more than 1,000.
The figure cited by Rafik Baba Ahmed, former director of the El Kala Biosphere Reserve, indicates 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.
Mr Baba Ahmed said 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, extolling its "exceptional biological richness".
But he said he was "very pessimistic" about the future of the area, which is damaged regularly by forest fires.
"Over time, the fires weaken the forest, making it vulnerable to other attacks: harmful insects but especially to human activities," he said.
As a consequence, the area loses its flora and fauna, he said.
While wildfires in Algeria's north-east have been largely extinguished, firefighters were battling two blazes on the other side of the country in Tlemcen, in the far west, the civil defence said on its Facebook page.
The fires led Algerians both at home and among the diaspora to donate clothing, medicine and food to help those affected.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has offered support, while French President Emmanuel Macron called his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune to express his condolences "for the victims of the fires", state news agency APS reported.