Saturday, July 24, 2021

Climate predictions for Portugal

The recent rural wildfire that encroached on the municipality of Portimão in the Algarve was yet another reminder that scientists consider Portugal to be one of the most vulnerable  countries in Europe to climate change.

The latest blaze came almost on the third anniversary of the inferno that destroyed so much across the Monchique hills in 2018.

It is clear that the effects of climate change are already being increasingly experienced in this country and they are predicted to get far worse as world leaders disagree and delay on the urgent action needed against global warming.

The heat waves, droughts and sea level rises that have already caused great concern in various parts of Portugal are certain to become much more frequent, intense, uncontrollable and harmful to human activities and ecosystems throughout the mainland, and even in the autonomous island territories of Madeira and the Azores.

Global temperatures have so far risen by what seems like an inconsequential one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. Further temperature rises due mainly to greenhouse gas emissions caused by the human use of fossil fuels could intensify and elongate heat waves, drastically reduce precipitation and create greater disastrous sea level rises.

Temperatures will rise through all seasons, especially summer when the heat in some places may be become unbearable.

More extreme heat waves will increase the number and severity of wildfires that have been more prevalent in Portugal than any other European country in recent years.

The tourist industry that is so crucial to the Portuguese economy has been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic and could again see a massive and perhaps permanent drop in business because of searing summers.   

Droughts will proliferate in magnitude, cutting supplies of water to ordinary urban households as well as for agricultural irrigation.

The reduction in crop productivity because of less irrigation on dry land will mean that even olive trees will be at risk and the wine industry may struggle to survive.

 If the sea levels continue to rise as expected, whole coastal communities will be submerged and wiped out.

None of this seems to worry many of the older generations who may not be around to cope with unprecedented crises in infrastructure, food, health and economic systems. But for future generations so much needs to be urgently done by world leaders at the COP-26 summit in Scotland in November.

It must be emphasised that the reality of global warming is not in doubt: it is based on specialist international scientific research and solid evidence.

Some pertinent statics:

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is regarded as a highly reliable source of information, consists of more than 1,300 scientists in the United States and many other countries.

Portugal has had to deal with 35% of the Mediterranean region’s forest fires and 39% of the land destroyed by them in recent decades, much more than any other southern European country.

In Lisbon the average summer temperatures may rise from 28 to 34 degrees, with the frequency of extremely hot days increasing from the current rate of five days to about 50 days a year.

That mere 1.0 degree Celsius post-industrial rise is causing increasingly frequent and violent weather conditions. The plan was to limit the rise this century to two degrees, but the 2016 Paris Agreement lowered the aim to 1.5C. That half a degree could make all the difference to the continuance of safe human existence.

The yearly precipitation rates are forecast to decrease this century by between 15% in the north and 30% in the south of the country. The decrease will be least in winter. In spring and autumn rainfall is likely to lessen by about 20% in the north and 40% in the south. Summer rainfall is expected to be down by more than 50% over most of the mainland. In Madeira, about 30% less annual rainfall than during the 1960–1990 period is anticipated for the decades ahead. No substantial change in rainfall is forecast for the Azores.

Scientific projects point to an average sea rise from 0.25 to 2 metres by the end of this century. The most affected of the nine main islands in the Azores will be São Miguel where more than 57% of the population are expected to be at risk.t

The Algarve is particularly vulnerable too, with sea levels up by 20cm-30cm by 2050 and by anywhere between 50 and 100cm by 2100.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

New plan to fight climate change

Portugal and all the other member states of the European Union have just been presented with an ambitious new climate change plan formulated by the EU Commission that hopes to influence other major countries in the lead up and during the crucial Cop-26 climate summit conference in Glasgow this November.

The plan comprises a dozen detailed draft proposals that seek to drastically cut the use of fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 55% between now and 2030. It wants to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

To achieve this, the plan is to start taxing high-carbon aviation and shipping fuel, as well as imposing “border tariffs” on imported carbon- emitting materials such as cement, steel and aluminium.

 The intention is also to ban the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars within the next 14 years.

Agreement on all this is not going to happen in a hurry. The 27 EU governments and the EU parliament are expected to take months if not a couple of years to reach agreement and ratify a joint plan.

 Opposition has already started rolling in because the proposals would mean rises in the costs of domestic heating, transportation and manufacturing. Every EU citizen is likely to experience extra expense of some kind.

“We’re going to ask a lot of our citizens. We’re going to ask a lot of our industries, but we do it for good cause,” said Frans Timmermanns, the EU’s climate policy chief. “We do it to give humanity a fighting chance.” 

The director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany, Ottmar Edenholmer, said: “Weather extremes around the world clearly illustrate that strong action is key now if we want to limits costs and risks and secure a safe future for all.”

Release of the proposals coincided with temperatures in California soaring to the highest ever recorded on the planet; viscous heat waves were sweltering Russia and Canada; typhoons were sweeping through the tropics; incredible rainfall and flooding were devastating families and homes in Germany and its western neighbours.

Scientists put it all down to climate change.

Yet the EU Commission’s plan came under immediate attack by industrialists both within the EU and abroad because of the inevitable cost rises the proposals would cause.

Environmental campaigners on the other hand complained about the contents of the plan being too weak.

Even on such a fundamental issue as climate change and the future of humanity, many strong-minded individuals, communities and governments are very much out of step with each other. There is no clear global unanimity in sight.

The EU Commission plan may not be perfect, but it’s the best set out so far. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

A less talked about pandemic

The lives of about 50 million people worldwide have been shattered without any hope of recovery by Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. The number is increasing by about 10 million a year, according to the World Health Organisation.

In Portugal, around 200,000 people - more than twice as many women as men - have dementia. That’s the latest round figure from the non-profit, non-governmental organisation Alzheimer Europe.

At least as many people giving close care to family or friends with dementia have been heavily impacted by the disease, but in a very different way.

Dementia is a cruel syndrome or group of symptoms associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning that usually develops slowly over years and sometimes without clear cause.

In general, carers only notice the symptoms some time after they break out as memory loss, attention deficits or other cognitive impairments are assumed to be part of the normal ageing process, says Dr Margarida Ferreira, a psychologist with the Portugal Alzheimer association.

“We might be a bit more forgetful as we grow older, but normally, after a while or with the help of a cue, we are still able to recall. So the tendency among close family and friends is usually to ignore early symptoms and only later, when something significant or dangerous happens, do they think that all might not be okay.” 

Dr Ferreira points out that close care-givers can be burdened with “physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.”

 In some cases, she says, “it is not only that  you are constantly supervising the person with dementia and helping them in their needs without any training or someone to share the care, but also that role inversion, as with a son taking care of a parent or a husband of a wife. This can add to the loss of someone you once knew differently.”

Care-giving can exhaust a carer’s ability to remain calm and be patient especially, for example, after repeatedly listening to the same talk over and over again. 

“This is generally because carers don’t have the time or support for their own personal needs, which includes comprehension and acceptance of the disease as well as managing their own feelings and expectations,” says Dr Ferreira. 

 “This lack of self-care and support, along with other factors, can in some cases lead to physical and mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

Portimão and Lagoa host the two local offices of the Portuguese national Alzheimer organization in the Algarve. This is where Dr Ferreira provides professional advice upon appointment to those in need, according to each specific situation.

“In some cases the main concern is the medication, in others personal care or specific behaviours,” she says.

Dr Ferreira (pictured above) suggests that caring family and friends experiencing fatigue should take advantage of the information available in English as well as Portuguese on the Alzheimer Portugal website:.

Here we quote directly from part of the website….

10 Steps to Becoming a Healthier Caregiver

Do you feel overwhelmed by caring for another person to the point of neglecting your physical, mental, and emotional well-being? If you don't take the time to take care of yourself and your needs you could be putting your life and health at risk.

Identify Changes as soon as Possible

Symptoms of dementia develop gradually. Whenever you notice significant changes in the person's memory, mood or behaviour, talk to your doctor. Don't delay. Some symptoms can be controlled.

Discover the Resources Available in the Community

Find out about the support, services and equipment available. Day centres and home support are some of the answers that can help you in providing care and in carrying out day-to-day tasks. 

Be Informed

As the disease progresses, it may be necessary to acquire specific knowledge and skills to face the challenges that arise. Try to participate in workshops and other training actions, with specific and diversified content, which can help you understand and better deal with the changes in behaviour and personality that accompany the disease. 

Seek Help

Trying to do everything yourself can lead to exhaustion. Seek support from family, friends and available resources in the community. Help lines and support groups are some of the resources that can help you find comfort and safety. If stress becomes disabling, seek professional help.

Take Care of Yourself

Pay attention to your diet, exercise and rest as much as possible.Watching your health will make you a better caregiver.

Control Your Stress Level

 Stress can lead to physical disturbances (blurred vision, gastrointestinal disturbances, high blood pressure) and behavioural changes (irritability, lack of concentration, changes in appetite). Be aware of your symptoms. Use relaxation techniques that make you feel better and talk to your doctor.

Accept the Evolution of the Disease 

The needs of People with Dementia change over time and with the evolution of the disease. Demands may exceed your responsiveness. Knowing the resources of the community - day centres, home support services and homes - can facilitate the decision to share the provision of care with others.

Make Decisions of a Legal and /  or Financial Nature

Plan ahead in advance. Know your rights and those of the Person with Dementia, as well as the legal procedures to be followed after diagnosis and during the course of the illness. Involve, whenever possible, the person with dementia and the closest family members.

Value Yourself and don't Blame Yourself

Remember that your care makes a difference and that you are doing the best you can. Don't blame yourself for not being able to do everything yourself. Even though care may no longer be provided by you, as the disease progresses, you can continue to ensure that the person is well cared for and feels safe.

Talk to your Doctor Regularly

Make time for yourself, get regular routine checkups, and listen to what your body tells you. Watch out for exhaustion, stress, sleep disturbances and changes n n appetite and behaviour. Ignoring these symptoms can seriously affect your physical and mental health.

The Care-giver in Stress.. ..

10 Warning Signs:

 1.  Denial about the disease, its evolution and its effects on the diagnosed person.

    “I know my mom will get better.”

2.  Anger toward the person with dementia or other people, anger that there is no cure, or by the lack of understanding of others.

   “If he asks the same question again, I scream!”

3.  Social isolation, withdrawal from friends and loss of interest in activities that before he liked to do.

   “I don't feel like hanging out with anyone anymore.”

4.   Anxiety about having to face one more day about the future.

    “What will happen when he needs more care than I can give?”

 5.   Depression that affects well-being and the ability to cope with everyday challenges. 

     “I don't want to know anymore.”  

 6.   Exhaustion feeling that it seems impossible to carry out the necessary daily tasks.

      “I'm too tired for this.”

7.   Insomnia caused by an endless list of worries.

    “What if during the night he gets up and falls?”

8.   Irritability that translates into bad mood and provokes negative responses and reactions.

     " Leave me alone!”

  9.   Lack of concentration that impairs day-to-day activities

      “I've been so busy I forgot I had an appointment.”

10.   Health problems that begin to compromise physical and psychological well-being.

      “I don't remember the last time I felt good.”


To contact Alzheimer Portugal offices in Portimão and Lagoa: 
From Monday to Friday: 9.30 to 12.30

+351 965 276 690

Sunday, June 27, 2021

What you don’t need to know about COVID foreign travel

For those who are utterly confused or bored by the international travel rules due to the COVID pandemic, the good news is that from 4.0 am on Wednesday 30th June Brits can go to more green list countries, including the tiny Pitcairn Islands situated in the middle of the vast South Pacific Ocean. Or they can go to the British Antarctic Territory, an enormous frozen wilderness that stretches from an iceberg-strewn coastline to the South Pole.

Travellers will not have to quarantine upon returning to the UK from these green list countries, although those who have been to the Antarctic might want to spent a couple of weeks sitting at home in front of a warm fireplace.

The bad news is that easyJet don’t run low-cost flights to the Pitcairns, which at last count had a total population of 67. Nor does Ryanair fly to the Antarctica Territory, which has no native inhabitants and only about 250 researchers and support staff.

 The very much more accessible and attractive Portuguese island region of Madeira is now also on the green list, although very strangely the Azores archipelago is on amber along with mainland Portugal. 

One of the few things the British government has made clear is that the likes of Madeira are on a green “watch” list, meaning they could suddenly be downgraded to amber. Such an outrageous U-turn forced many Brits to cut short visits to Portugal in early June and go scrambling home at great inconvenience and extra cost to avoid quarantine. 

Many of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s critics say he is both a buffoon and bonkers because instead of following the science as he claims, he is following his own dodgy political agenda. Portugal's minister of foreign affairs described one of Johnson's decisions regarding air travel as "absurd" and "illogical."

The UK government’s handling of overseas travel during the pandemic continues to infuriate economically battered airlines, tour operators, the great many businesses in Portugal and elsewhere dependent on tourism, as well as fully vaccinated Brits longing to join loved-ones abroad.

Plenty of frustrated people who have been under tight restrictions for months are desperate to get away. Sadly, the coronaviris pandemic is not going away, not anytime soon anyway.

As in the UK, citizens across the European Union are being advised to grab a jab. EU countries have also agreed a coordinated approach to international travel.

The Portuguese government says it is taking “all necessary public health measures to protect the entire population as well as visitors.”

Essential and non-essential travel is allowed on flights to and from all EU member states, Schengen associated counties, and a number of more distant nations including the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

The usual tests are required 72 or 48 hours before flights. Children under the age of 12 do not require test results, and from 1st July an EU digital COVID certificate will be acceptable from all EU travellers.

European countries, particularly Germany, have voiced concerns about welcoming British visitors as the prevalence of the so-called Delta variant rises and spreads. Even in the Algarve, some of the recent rising COVID cases have been attributed to foreign visitors.

From a British or EU traveller’s perspective, popping over to Pitcairn or Antarctica may be tempting, but a more relaxed visit to green Madeira, or even the amber Azores or mainland Portugal, are probably a better option.   


Monday, June 7, 2021

The dark side of ‘green list’ travel

Faro Airport departure area on Sunday 

Photo by Tonia Christensen


Many British visitors to Portugal are counting the cost of having to rush home early amid the chaos created by the British Government’s sudden U-turn on its ‘green list’ travel arrangement.


Among them is Tonia Christensen, who came to the Algarve, not to enjoy a getaway sunshine holiday, but to visit at long last her elderly mother who has dementia.


“I was last able to visit my mother in September 2020. I planned to do so in January and again in March this year, but easyJet cancelled the two-way flights both times because of the COVID travel ban,” said Tonia.


“I booked again with easyJet as soon as it was announced that Portugal was on the new ‘green list’ when Britain lifted its overseas ban on May 17.”


Never mind that the cost of flights immediately soared, daughter and mother were desperate to see each other. Tonia, who had been fully vaccinated, as was her mother, resigned from a London university-based job to make the one-week trip.


The required PCR test before her departure last Friday would have cost £175 in Wimbledon, in the closest test centre to her home, so she made the one hour journey to Croydon where the cost was £80.


Shortly before she was about to fly from London Gatwick to Faro, the British Government suddenly downgraded Portugal to the ‘amber list.’ That meant Tonia would have to quarantine for 10 days upon returning home. That would not be possible because she had agreed to take up another sensitive job in London shortly after her one-week Algarve visit.


She had no practical choice other than to reschedule her return flight to Sunday. The airline said no seats were available on Monday. No refund on the original return flight was available, so she had to pay again in full for the rescheduled Sunday flight.


Now she would only be able to see her mother for one full day instead of a week.


The flight was not full but there was an hour’s wait in line at Faro for a previously-booked hire car. The receptionist mentioned without apology that the car’s fuel tank was empty. That might have been a concern for first-time visitors, but Tonia speaks Portuguese and is familiar with the whereabouts of local petrol stations.


The joy of getting together with her mother again was wonderful, but severely dented when amid all the COVID restriction confusion Tonia realised she would have to take a lateral flow COVID test before flying home, as well as a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in London.


By the time she had emerged from Faro airport with a car last Friday evening, the test centres in various Algarve localities were already closed for the weekend. All phone calls to test centres went unanswered.


Local newspaper reports warned that long queues for COVID testing at Faro airport meant that passengers had to wait for hours and in some cases missed their outgoing flights in doing so.

Even though lateral flow testing is supposed to be rapid, the reported long queues were confirmed in a phone call eventually answered by a very busy COVID centre official at the airport. The cost would be €30. 


Tonia’s only option then was to leave her mother on Sunday morning, hours earlier than planned, in order to be sure to get a test and not miss her flight home before the 4.00 am Tuesday June 8 deadline. 


Her flight back, as were many others from Faro, was delayed by frustrated and confused queuing crowds. 


“I sat on the plane on the tarmac for more than one and a half hours, surrounded by tired screaming children. We were waiting for passengers who had been unable to get through the check-in on time. The Captain informed us that he had been instructed by easyJet to wait for all the remaining passengers.”


That wasn’t the end of the chaos, explained Tonia. 


“Immigration at London Gatwick wouldn’t let me through because I hadn’t previously booked my second day PCR COVID test. I had to agree to and pay on the spot for a government home test before being allowed to proceed. That was another £88. Total cost just for testing: nearly £200.


“All this despite filling in passenger location cards for both the Portuguese and UK authorities so they knew exactly where I was!”


She was back in London, but the travel nightmare wasn’t quite over yet. There were no trains running into the city from Gatwick. In all, returning  home from Portugal turned out to be a 12-hour trip!


Meanwhile, responding to Portugal having been taken off the green travel list, top Portuguese health officials insisted that the British Government’s claims about increased rates of COVID infections and the prevalence of the Nepal mutation in Portugal were based on misinformation or lies.