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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
Europe counts cost of scorching summer
By Doreen Walton
BBC World Service business reporter

Helicopter figthing forest fires in Portugal
Fires are raging in many European countries
The battle against the blaze that has engulfed huge areas of forest in Portugal continues, with helicopters carrying water and soldiers working with firefighters.

But for the Lisbon government, the struggle is only just about to begin.

The Portuguese authorites have promised more than $100m euros (70m; $100m) in aid for people who have lost their jobs and homes, farmers who have lost their crops and livestock and for local councils to rebuild infrastructure.

In addition, there is pressure to put more money into the fire services.

But Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe and can ill afford the extra expense.

"The Portuguese budget is hard pressed," said Charles Jenkins, director of Western Europe at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"In 2002 they went well over the [budget deficit] limit for countries which are part of the euro... so any extra expenditure is something of a nightmare for the government."

Burning issue

Fires are raging in many other European countries, including France, Italy, Spain and Poland.

The heat has also caused severe water shortages, and farmers are already counting the cost of failed crops.

Many French farmers do not have enough food for their livestock and are having to buy it in, said Jean Michel Delmas, head of the natural disaster unit at the French farmers' union.

"The farmers at the moment are losing the equivalent of a year's income," he said.

"They are having to buy straw and forage to feed their livestock, and that costs them as much as they would sell their produce for in a year.

"They also have to buy in cereals because the harvest has been affected by the drought. They buy barley and nutritional supplements to go with the straw."

Assistance

Farmers in Western Europe are already heavily subsidised under the Common Agricultural Policy.

French fireman contemplating life
After the fire comes the army of damage assessors
Now, say some experts, governments may have to consider giving even more help.

"Farmers, of course, are used to variations form year to year, so how much you can say this is a cost of a drought is open to debate because it is something that naturally fluctuates," said Mr Jenkins.

"But if costs are very severe, they will have to consider forms of compensation for farmers and that will cost EU and national budgets considerably."




WATCH AND LISTEN
French farmer's union's Jean Michel Delmas
"The farmers at the moment are losing the equivalent of a year's income"




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