WARSAW — On the evening of August 11th, 2017, severe winds rushed through western and northern Poland. In the morning, the storms had felled tends of thousands of trees, killed six people and left many more injured, homeless and powerless.
Poland’s head forester, Konrad Tomaszewski, called it the worst logging disaster in Polish history—and “perhaps even European forestry.” He predicts that two years will pass before the nation can clear the wreckage from the fallen trees. It will take decades more before the lost natural habitat can return to its previous state.
The national foreign agency analyzed that the storm destroyed over 111,195 acres of wood in that one night alone — the worst loss ever since the agency started in 1924. In addition to the lives lost and individuals injured, the storm leveled over 7,000 buildings with about 3,000 of those being homes.
This loss will be a heavy hit for Poland, the country with the largest forest area in Europe. The country is also the world’s tenth largest producer and its economy is quickly growing from its manufacturing industry. Analysts predict it will soon start to compete on the same level as China, Germany and Italy in manufacturing.
Polish wood plays a significant part in the nation’s economy for manufacturing, especially in furniture. Two percent of Poland’s GDP comes from its wood industry, and the timber industry employs almost fourteen percent of Poland’s workforce. Its reputation in the wood industry has gained over $7.5 billion from foreign investors.
With the huge loss of timber due to the recent storm, Poland’s wood industry could take a massive hit—and possibly its entire economy as well. Given the thousands of Polish people lacking homes, electricity, clean water and safe evacuation routes in the storm’s aftermath, people around the world are wondering how to help people in Poland.
Poland, however, seems determined to solve its problems on its own. Poland’s interior ministry announced on Monday August 14 to pledge PLN 30 million — over $8 million — in immediate relief efforts. Caritas, an international charity supported by Poland’s Catholic church, is also fundraising to provide shelter, food and stability to affected families.
The EU has asked how to help people in Poland recover from the disaster, and has offered aid to Poland. The nation’s capital, Warsaw, could receive funds from the EU Solidarity fund, which is especially prepared to respond to major natural disasters.
So although many in Europe ask how to help people in Poland, Poland hasn’t asked for help from the EU. Since the United Kingdom left the EU in the infamous “Brexit,” Poland is a tentative candidate to leave the union next. Tensions are high between Poland and the EU, and one of the main roots of tension is, ironically, logging.
The EU ordered the Polish government to cease logging in the Bialowieza Forest a couple weeks ago. This primeval forest is a UNESCO world heritage site and home to diverse plant life and thousands of rare species. The EU made the order on the grounds of protecting the ancestry of the forest and the wildlife in it.
The wind storm did not affect the Bialowieza Forest; however, the Polish government has not obeyed the order. It continues to log trees in the forest, claiming that it is only chopping down young trees in prevention of a bark beetle infestation. The order is controversial, as logging is essential to Poland’s economy.
In the meantime, here’s how to help people in Poland:
- Support Poland’s economy by buying goods and furniture imported from Poland. Trade in forest products between Poland and the U.S. reached US $42.6 billion in 2016, so there’s plenty of Polish goods in the U.S. and around the world.
- Support international charities, like Caritas, who are responding to the relief needs in Poland after the storm’s destruction.
- Finally, contact the Senate, the White House and the House of Representatives and ask congress to support foreign policy and the International Affairs Budget, so the U.S. will work with Poland and provide them aid in this time of need.
– Sydney Cooney