Through the FRA 2000 process, FAO was able to close out the 20th Century by instituting a system for collecting meaningful fire data for developing countries. Although the submission of wildfire data on fire numbers, area burned and causes fell short of expectations, the importance of regularly recording and evaluating such information has been established with Member countries. Strategic advantages accrue to countries when they regularly report, record, evaluate and disseminate fire statistics on national, regional and global levels. Examples have been presented in this report demonstrating that even the most basic annual information on area burned by wildfires can provide insights into making appropriate fire management programme adjustments directed at more sustainable resource management.
In addition, many countries are seeking ways to improve their fire management organization by instituting a more comprehensive fire protection system (see Appendix 1 for a model that many countries are following).
It is apparent in observing the results of fire database development efforts like those enacted by Silva Mediterranea that individual country data needs can be met while still providing a consistent format in regional reporting. In addition, the Silva Mediterranea process underscores the value of establishing the initial database with basic and essential information, with the realization that more complex requirements can be added at a later time. Another principle demonstrated by Mediterranean countries is that an effective fire database is dependent on countries developing an internal commitment to regularly recording and reporting fire statistics to satisfy national and regional needs.
This assessment of the global forest fire situation revealed strengths and weaknesses associated with sustaining the health and productivity of the world's forests when threatened by drought, wildfires and an increasing demand for natural resources. Before describing some of the positive outcomes in more detail, it may be instructive to enumerate the current state of fire management practices throughout the different Regions:
• Wildfires during drought years continue to cause serious impacts to natural resources, public health, transportation, navigation and air quality over large areas. Tropical rain forests and cloud forests that typically do not burn on a large scale have been devastated by wildfires during the 1990s.
• Many countries, and regions, have a well-developed system for documenting, reporting and evaluating wildfire statistics in a systematic manner. However, many fire statistics do not provide sufficient information on the damaging and beneficial effects of wildland fires.
• Satellite systems have been used effectively to map active fires and burned areas, especially in remote areas where other damage assessment capabilities are not available.
• Some countries still do not have a system in place to annually report number of fires and area burned in a well-maintained database, often because other issues like food security and poverty are more pressing.
• Even those countries supporting highly financed fire management organizations are not exempt from the ravages of wildfires in drought years. When wildland fuels have accumulated to high levels, no amount of firefighting resources can make much of a difference until the weather moderates (as observed in the United States in the 2000 fire season).
• Uncontrolled use of fire for forest conversion, agricultural and pastoral purposes continues to cause a serious loss of forest resources, especially in tropical areas.
• Some countries are beginning to realize that inter-sectoral coordination of land use policies and practices is an essential element in reducing wildfire losses.
• Examples exist where sustainable land use practices and the participation of local communities in integrated forest fire management systems are being employed to reduce resource losses from wildfires.
• In some countries, volunteer rural fire brigades are successful in responding quickly and efficiently to wildfires within their home range ; and residents are taking more responsibility to ensure that homes will survive wildfires.
• Although prescribed burning is being used in many countries to reduce wildfire hazards and achieve resource benefits, other countries have prohibitions against the use of prescribed fire.
• Fire ecology principles and fire regime classification systems are being used effectively as an integral part of resource management and fire management planning.
• Fire research scientists have been conducting cooperative research projects on a global scale to improve understanding of fire behavior, fire effects, fire emissions, climate change and public health.
• Numerous examples were present in the 1990s of unprecedented levels of inter-sectoral and international cooperation in helping to lessen the impact of wildfires on people, property and natural resources.
• Institutions like the Global Fire Monitoring Center have been instrumental in bringing the world's fire situation to the attention of a global audience via the Internet.
National and International Initiatives
Between 1998 and 2000, several national and international initiatives related to wildland fire prevention, preparedness, management and response were continued or initiated:
1. As a follow up to the FAO expert consultation Public Policies Affecting Forest Fire, Rome, October 1998 and the Rome Declaration on Forestry, as adopted by the Ministerial Meeting on Forestry, FAO, 9 March 1999, FAO initiated the update of the Wildland Fire Management Terminology and the preparation of the Special Report on Forest Fires within the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2000). With the global compilation of fire statistics and narratives by country, the comprehensive report will provide a basis for understanding the global fire situation in the 1990s.
2. As a consequence of the fire and smoke episode of 1997-98 the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) was established as a contribution of the German government to the UN family, particularly to the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The GFMC provides global fire documentation, early warning and monitoring of fires and supports decision and policy makers. It is accessible through the Internet. The GFMC was inaugurated at FAO's expert consultation Public Policies Affecting Forest Fire in October 1998.
3. The ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire has operated since the 1980s. The team's main task is to provide a critical link in communication and co-operation among fire scientists, managers and policy makers. The main activities embrace (1) the production of International Forest Fire News (IFFN) in support of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC); (2) organization of seminars; and (3) promotion of synergistic collaboration among governments, non-government institutions and individuals, especially science and technology transfer. The scope of the work of the Fire Team includes the countries outside the ECE region, because there is no similar institutional arrangement available in other FAO regions. The co-ordination of the Team is based at the GFMC.
4. The International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (ISDR) is a follow-up arrangement of the IDNDR. From the beginning of the IDNDR and particularly following the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction (Yokohama, Japan, 1994) and the Geneva Forum (June 1999), the international community of fire scientists and managers formulated their programmatic visions to cope with disaster fires at national, regional and international scales. These efforts shall be implemented by the International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (ISDR) under the UN Interagency Task Force for Disaster Reduction. In October 2000 the Interagency Task Force established a Working Group Wildland Fire. Starting in 2001 this group will establish an international forum for all UN agencies and programmes and for international organizations, including the civil society and the NGOs. The Working Group is coordinated by the Global Fire Monitoring Center.
5. The World Health Organization (WHO), supported by the GFMC, took the initiative to develop guidelines for the protection of human health threatened by emissions from forest and other vegetation fires. The Health Guidelines on Vegetation Fire Events were published as a joint activity of WHO, UNEP and WMO.
6. The UNESCO International Scientific Conference on Fires in the Mediterranean Forests in February 1999 released a declaration in which the Mediterranean countries were urged to improve the information and data flow to the GFMC. Such changes would create a more complete fire information system, better share expertise and enhance contributions to common international action programmes in fire management and policy development.
7. The Committee of Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), in implementation of the International Global Observing Strategy (IGOS), is operating a fire component within the Disaster Management Support Group (DMSG). In December 1999, the CEOS Global Observation of the Forest Cover (GOFC) programme established a Fire Group in which the major institutions dealing with remote sensing of wildland fire occurrence and fire effects are cooperating.
8. Other international institutions dealing with global wildland fire problems in 1999-2000 included the ProVention Consortium on Natural and Technological Disasters founded in 2000 at the World Bank Disaster Management Facility (DMF) and the World Institute for Disaster Risk Management (DRM), a consortium of the Swiss Federal Institutes for Technology, Virginia Polytech, Swiss Reinsurance and the World Bank, founded in 2000. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) continued with its efforts to address global fire issues through partnerships with the Global Fire Monitoring Center and the WWF Firefight Asia project.
9. The International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) proposed the formation of a Wildland Fire Focus at the regional INSARAG Europe-Africa meeting in December 1999 (Germany). At a meeting at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in January 2000, it was agreed that INSARAG activities would encompass search and rescue and broader aspects of disaster/emergency response. This could include a variety of natural and human-made disasters, including wildland fires. At BALTEX FIRE 2000 the formation of the INSARAG Europe-Africa Fire Group, particularly the Subgroup on Wildland Fire, was further developed. The final format of INSARAG Wildland Fire was established at the INSARAG Europe Africa Regional Meeting (Tunisia, November 2000). During its preparation phase, the INSARAG Wildland Fire Subgroup became operational in managing the large forest fire emergency in Ethiopia between February and April 2000. The coordination of a multinational fire fighting task force through the GFMC involved participation of Germany, South Africa, Canada and the United States.
10. Increasingly, countries are developing policies and practices to improve institutional capacities to prevent, prepare for and combat forest fires. The Ministries of Environment and Agriculture in Mexico, for example, have collaborated since the disastrous 1998 fire season to reduce the threat of agricultural burning to forests.
11. In Brazil, measures were taken to stress fire prevention programmes with the public and to train farmers in burning practices that will better control fires used in agriculture.
12. A debate is currently ongoing in the United States to determine the extent to which tree thinning, timber harvest and prescribed burning might reduce fire hazards in the future.
13. In early 2000, a new Directorate of Forest and Estate Fire Operations was set up under the Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops in Indonesia to strengthen the fire management capabilities of the country.
It is obvious from the many initiatives cited above that important results have been achieved at local, national and international levels to improve methods, technologies and skills in fire management. In the last decade, encouraging experience has been gained in international collaboration in wildland fire science. The development of fire management systems is increasingly based on principles of fire ecology, the involvement of indigenous knowledge and the integration of local communities.
However, increasing demographic and land-use pressures associated with fragile national economies in developing countries, and new problems arising as a consequence of global environmental changes, have led to the unprecedented occurrence of human-caused wildfires with destructive socio-economic and environmental implications. These trends call for further actions to halt a widespread degradation of forests and other natural resources.
There are many underlying causes for destructive fires; and they are related to many sectors of society and many conflicting policies. Thus, the future development of fire management systems cannot be based exclusively on a mono-sectoral approach. Valuable experience has been gained in the development of national and inter-sectoral fire management strategies in Asia and Africa. For example, experience gained in Indonesia in 1992 in developing a “Long Term Strategy for Integrated Forest Fire Management” led to the creation of the “National Round Table for Fire Management”. This "Round Table" approach was first applied in Namibia in 1999 and in Ethiopia in 2000. The participation of all stakeholders involved in fire management, the agencies, NGOs, local communities and the international community, is a prerequisite in defining successful projects that address fire problems at their roots.
A similar approach is underway at the global level. In early 2001, the Interagency Task Force Working Group Wildland Fire of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), established in October 2000 and coordinated by the Global Fire Monitoring Center, intends to create a global platform, or Global Round Table, of an inter-sectoral nature. FAO and other UN agencies and programmes (such as UNDP, UNEP, WHO, WMO and UNESCO), international bodies and organizations (such as ITTO and the World Bank), NGOs, the civil society and academia will assume joint responsibility through their participation. With this new international and integrated approach it is hoped to create awareness at the highest political and policy-making levels that wildland fires critically affect the survival of biodiversity and humanity. Consequently, it is expected that appropriate attention will be given to global wildland fire issues by leaders in the future.
In reviewing the global fire situation it is apparent that a continued emphasis on the emergency response side of the wildfire problem will only result in future large and damaging fires. The way out of the emergency response dilemma is to couple emergency preparedness and response programmes with more sustainable land use policies and practices. There are a growing number of examples where countries are working closely with local communities and revising resource management policies. Effectively working towards more sustainable forestry practices through community outreach and policy revisions are important parts of the strategy in better conserving natural resources for the betterment of society. Policy makers and the public need to understand that a strategy that only focuses on the emergency preparedness and response side will not be sufficient in the end. Only when sustainable land use practices and emergency preparedness measures complement each other do long-term natural resource benefits accrue for society.