Kenyans Brave Heavy Rain to Plant Trees 

A woman carries tree seedlings in a bag as she looks for a place to plant them during the nationwide tree planting public holiday in Nairobi on November 13, 2023. (AFP)
A woman carries tree seedlings in a bag as she looks for a place to plant them during the nationwide tree planting public holiday in Nairobi on November 13, 2023. (AFP)
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Kenyans Brave Heavy Rain to Plant Trees 

A woman carries tree seedlings in a bag as she looks for a place to plant them during the nationwide tree planting public holiday in Nairobi on November 13, 2023. (AFP)
A woman carries tree seedlings in a bag as she looks for a place to plant them during the nationwide tree planting public holiday in Nairobi on November 13, 2023. (AFP)

Hundreds of Kenyans braved heavy downpours to plant seedlings in Nairobi after the government declared Monday a public holiday to encourage citizens to grow 100 million trees across the country.

President William Ruto has vowed to plant 15 billion trees by 2032 in a bid to boost Kenya's forest cover following the worst drought to ravage the Horn of Africa region in 40 years.

Despite pouring rain, officials, school students and families gathered in various locations in the capital to plant seedlings.

"I have planted more than 50 trees today. I think this is a powerful and necessary initiative for the planet specially after experiencing a dramatic drought in Kenya for several consecutive seasons," government official Joan Kirika told AFP.

"I hope we keep celebrating this day annually, not necessarily as a holiday but a yearly reminder to care about the environment and think about the planet."

Ruto has cast himself as a climate change campaigner, but has faced criticism from environmentalists over his decision in July to lift a nearly six-year moratorium on logging.

He has defended the move, saying it would create jobs, and adding that it was "foolishness" to let mature trees rot while sawmills were importing timber.

A Kenyan court last month barred the government from lifting the logging ban but allowed the felling of several thousand hectares of mature forest.

In 2018, a government taskforce said the felling of indigenous trees in Kenya's forests was "rampant" and warned 5,000 hectares (around 12,350 acres) a year were being cleared.

Forestry and logging contributed 1.6 percent to Kenya's economy last year, according to government statistics, which also said the total forest cover was 8.8 percent in 2022.

Kenya's timber industry employs 50,000 people directly and 300,000 indirectly, according to the government, and the decision to lift the ban came as the economy reels from unemployment and high inflation.



Greece Battles Wildfires Fanned by Gale Force Winds

A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Greece Battles Wildfires Fanned by Gale Force Winds

A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)

Hundreds of firefighters struggled on Saturday to contain wildfires fanned by gale force winds on two Greek islands and in other parts of Greece, as authorities warned many regions face a high risk of new blazes.

More than 30 firefighters backed by two aircraft and five helicopters were battling a wildfire burning οn the island of Andros in the Aegean, away from tourist resorts, where four communities were evacuated as a precaution.

"More firefighters (are) expected on the island later in the day," a fire services official told Reuters, adding there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Wildfires are common in Greece, but they have become more devastating in recent years amid hotter and drier summers that scientists link to climate change. A wildfire near Athens last week forced dozens to flee their homes, which authorities said they believed was the result of arson as well as the hot, dry conditions.

Meteorologists say the latest fires are the first time that the country has experienced "hot-dry-windy" conditions so early in the summer.

"I can't remember another year facing such conditions so early, in early and mid-June," meteorologist Thodoris Giannaros told state TV.

On Friday, a 55-year-old man died in hospital after being injured in a blaze in the region of Ilia on Greece's Peloponnese peninsula, as several fires burned on Greece's southern tip.

Several hundred firefighters have been deployed to battle more than 70 forest fires across the country since Friday. High winds and hot temperatures will extend the risk into Sunday, the fire service said.

Earlier on Saturday, firefighters tamed a forest fire on the island of Salamina, in the Saronic Gulf west of Athens, and another about 30 kilometers east of the capital.

After forest fires last year forced 19,000 people to flee the island of Rhodes and killed 20 in the northern mainland, Greece has scaled up its preparations this year by hiring more staff and stepping up training.