Sofia Sunday snippets: scorched earth

Bulgaria crops suffer in drought

Bulgaria’s record drought summer

There’s not much need for us to be officially advised to stay indoors for the afternoon; at the moment, nothing, and no one, is moving, as the sun beats down relentlessly. In Sofia, as across Bulgaria, it’s just too hot to venture outside. Temperatures in some areas are predicted to reach 42ºC today, as we sweat our way through this extended scorcher.

Rain – what’s that?

I’ve almost forgotten the sound, smell, feel of rain. So, I liked one forecast that surmises Sunday evening may experience “slight rainfall up to 1 mm”. Well, that will sort out the drought!

Balkan drought

The entire region is suffering from the summer drought. From Croatia to Macedonia and Greece, to Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania, the lack of rainfall has become critical, with three serious consequences: failed agricultural crops, forest fires, and scarcity of drinking water.

Bulgarian potato growers are already eligible for compensation; sunflowers wilt in the fields; corn (maize) cobs resemble spent firebrands. Tobacco producers are warning today that their yield is down drastically, a third of last year’s harvest, and that the price of tobacco will probably rise by 30% as a consequence. They estimate it’s the driest summer for 50 years in the tobacco-growing regions.

Fires have been raging in the Rila Mountains, in the White Pine area close to the world-famous Rila monastery. Fortunately, lives and homes are not in jeopardy. This year, according to one agency, there have been almost 500 serious fires that have destroyed more than 49,000 decares / 12,000+ acres of woodland. Most are suspected to have been caused “by human negligence”, the report mentions.

Meanwhile, thousands are being evacuated from the Serbian town of Cacak as a massive fire rages there. The Russians have sent fire-fighting planes to assist local attempts to control the situation.

I’ve not (yet) seen news of extensive domestic water rationing in Bulgaria, although many Sofia residents have been without supplies for weeks, as planned maintenance and replacement of mains piping is carried out. Neighbouring Skopje, however, warns of rationing of supplies, and those unfortunate people of Cacak are restricted to 5 hours’ access daily.

The Bulgaria-Romania stretch of the Danube is barely navigable, such are the depleted levels of that mighty river.

Hot transport news

A new stretch of the Trakia highway, that connects Sofia with Burgas on the Black Sea coast, has just opened, cutting the total driving time by a welcome 30 minutes. We all laugh at PM Borisov’s obsession with building more motorways (he just loves cutting ribbons at the opening ceremonies), but I suppose we’re quietly satisfied that this is improving the transport infrastructure, whether as private motorists or for commercial reasons.

An EBRD loan announced last week means that work will finally begin on lining the Macedonian capital, Skopje, with its Bulgarian counterpart. Don’t hold your breath though: the project will not be completed for another 10 years, but that’s just a blink of the eye in the historical life of this undertaking – see a related story.[1]

Political firebrands

The name Anton Kutev was not too familiar – that is, until last Friday, when he stated in an interview:

“I have long stated that socialism has something to do with AIDS. Generally, it is inherited or sexually transmitted. In our party, it is common for the offspring to become socialists simply because of their fathers.”

Kutev is (for the moment) none other than the media policy secretary of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

This was too good to miss! The next day, a mocking PM Borisov announced that he had ordered the Executive Commission of GERB, the ruling party, to come up with rules for protection from AIDS/BSP:

“I have ordered the Executive Commission of GERB and the deputy chair of the party Tsvetan Tsvetanov to draft and send to all GERB offices around the country a letter explaining to the party members how to protect themselves from AIDS/BSP.

“It is very important to avoid any contacts, and to take precautions in order to avoid the AIDS/BSP infection, especially after the public announcements about the advanced form of this illness in this party in spite of its 100 years.”

And so, our scorching summer continues…

[1]: On the (rail)road to nowhere

Image source: Scott Olsen/Getty Images

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