Organized by the Institute of Social Sciences (ICS) of the University of Minho, in a joint initiative of CEGOT and CECS, a debate was held on November 15 in the ICS entitled: “Crossfire: fire, land management and social responsibility”, and the Degree in Civil Protection and Land Management of UMinho was presented.
The ICS president, Helena Sousa, had already on November 8, at the solemn session of the 41st anniversary of the ICS, announced that the Degree in Civil Protection and Territory Management should integrate the range of courses at the University of Minho in the next school year since it had been approved by the governamental entities in 2015. She had been noted at the time that the project has been kept in the drawer which she said was “absolutely incomprehensible” especially at a time when the country faced one of the worst fire seasons in its history. According to Helena Sousa, who moderated the debate, “we should not need these more recent tragedies to realize the importance of a serious formation, at a university level, in this area”.
António Vieira, a professor in the Department of Geography at UMinho, said that the curricular plan of the new course guarantees that it will have a “quality and innovative offer based on a range of diversified knowledge”. The degree is proposed by ICS and the School of Engineering, involving more than 50 PhDs. This is a step forward, especially when presently only a few polytechnics and the University of the Azores have degrees in the area of Civil Protection. António Bento Gonçalves, also a lecturer in the Department of Geography at UMinho, that addressed the theme “Forest fires in mainland Portugal in 2017: a chronicle of an announced tragedy”, pointing out that the current civil protection system “is not prepared to face this new regime of extreme fires”. He argued: “Or we adapt or we will see these dramatic situations repeated”, even if he said that the year 2017 “was completely abnormal” and that there was a combination of factors that contributed to the tragedy”. Even acknowledging the effectiveness of the firefighters, he said it was impossible to control the total of 17,000 occurrences, which was the number counted until October 31 of this year. The head of the Municipal Civil Protection Division of Braga, Vítor Azevedo, who addressed “The role of municipal civil protection in heavy operations”, said there is a lack of legal framework for municipal civil protection systems, noting that the coordination works only until the level of the district. In this sense, a “new paradigm of legislation” is required. Regarding the new degree, he defended that “the qualification of human resources is more and more urgent”.
Adriano Miranda and “The Lady in Black”
The photojournalist of “Público” newspaper, who was in Pedrógão Grande and was one of the few that has had images of the tragedy since its inception, began by reading a chronicle that he wrote for the newspaper where he works and which he called “The Lady in Black”. The reporter’s words served as a motto for his intervention, which touched on essential points in the profession of journalist, such as the ethical dimension of work, namely the respect for other people’s pain.
He said that the tragic dimension of Pedrógão was so great that he had never witnessed such a thing, “nor in war scenarios”. And said that he was discovering the horror alone and finding that it was an abnormal fire, especially since when someone of his newspaper called him to say that the President of the Republic was headed there. Added to this was the the fact that the number of dead, in a first announcement that he heard in the radio, already arrived at the 16 victims. That was right away, a big number, so that, he thaught the fire would be the worst thing he would encounter in his life of more than 20 years as a photojournalist. But, as he said, “when we are called, we can not throw the towel on the floor”. Curiously, he was on his way to a sauteed with sardines with friends, when they called him from the newspaper, marking Pedrógão’s service. “I went in search of the flames,” said Adriano Miranda, who pointed out that there was no training by journalists to deal with such cases: “We always risk, by instinct. My concern was to send the photos as soon as possible to the newsroom. Throwing caution to the wind”.
He then spoke about ethics and the need to respect the victims, and about the duty to inform that hould not go beyond respect for the suffering of the others: “Being our duty, we must know how far we can go. There have been excesses and, in this context, the word dignity is essential. And people have the right to refuse a photo, and that’s to be respected”. It is in this context that “the photo of Mr. Francisco”* was published, and made the first page of the newspaper “Público” and that filled the social networks. But the photo was taken, says the photographer, with the consent of Mr. Francisco himself, who had just lost a friend in the fire, and who told him that he is to ugly for the ‘picture’ intended by Adriano Miranda.
Text and photo: Vítor de Sousa
*Photo by Adriano Miranda (“Público” newspaper)