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3.1 Introduction

The report on the Asia region has been divided into three sub-regions, 1) Insular and continental Southeast Asia, 2) South Asia, and 3) Middle East, Central and East Asia. For each of the sub-regions, a short overview is given on biogeographic features and fire regimes. A number of selected country reports provide an exemplary and representative insight into the fire conditions. For other countries, brief descriptions are provided as well as bibliographic or Internet (websites) references.

Narrative summary of major wildfire impacts on people, property, and natural resources during the 1990s (to include effects on public health)

The Asian region suffered extreme wildfire and smoke episodes during the 1990s. Insular Southeast Asia was most affected by several El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events in the 1990s, particularly during the extreme ENSO in 1997-98. Extended droughts favoured the application of land-use fires, forest conversion burning (use of fire in land-use change) and extended wildfire situations. The fires have caused impoverishment or destruction of primary and secondary equatorial rain forest ecosystems over large areas. Indonesia was the main source of smoke-haze that affected the entire region for almost one year and affected the health of more than 100 million people living in the region.

Continental South and Southeast Asia continued to experience extended wildfires in the seasonal (deciduous) forests, e.g. monsoon forests and forest savannahs. Human-induced wildfires in the deciduous forests are common since historic times. As a traditional element of forest utilization, especially for improving grazing conditions (silvopastoral land use), or to improve productivity or facilitate harvest of non-wood forest products, these fires partially represent prescribed burning systems. However, many of the fires are not contained and tend to escape as extended wildfires.

In Central Asia, the most challenging fire region is between the steppe and southern boreal forests. Steppe fires exert a tremendous pressure on the adjoining forests. Recent socio-economic changes have led to an increasing occurrence of wildfires in Mongolia and its neighbour countries.

The Asian countries bordering the Mediterranean Basin are included in the Mediterranean section (reported under the Europe region).

Fire management organizations present in the region

National fire management organizations and capabilities are described in the country reports. However, there are attempts to organize regional efforts in fire management such as in the ASEAN region. The aim of the ASEAN-wide activities are described under Southeast Asia. Several bilateral (border-crossing) agreements for mutual assistance are also in place, e.g. between Malaysia and Indonesia, Indonesia and Brunei, Mongolia and Russia and China and Russia.

Fire databases

A complete regional database does not exist. The country reports contain statistical data if these were available. Some of the Asian countries belong to the ECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) region which is regularly collecting fire statistics of their member states (see ECE fire statistics included in the Europe regional report). Occasional reports of individual years are published in the pages of International Forest Fire News (IFFN) and the Global Vegetation Fire Information System (GVFI) – both available on the Internet through the website of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC 2000).

Use of prescribed fire

Within the Asian region the application of fire in forest and other land-use systems often follows traditional patterns, e.g. in sustainable slash-and-burn agriculture of smallholders and maintenance burning in permanent farming and pastoral systems. However, increasing land-use pressure associated with migrations of populations and the increasing loss of traditional skills in safe and sustainable fire application are causing widespread deterioration of forests and other wooded land.

Application of fire also includes the maintenance of grasslands, predominantly occupied by the aggressive invader Imperata cylindrica, which have replaced former forest ecosystems. In Bangladesh, for instance, fires are set intentionally to stimulate the growth of sungrass (Imperata cylindrica). The grass is used for thatching and therefore has a high commercial value. Ironically, the situation in all countries of South East Asia is very different. These grasslands are often fired without immediate economic and land-use objectives, simply to keep the land open, to purposely prevent the regeneration of a forest cover in order to maintain a controllable space for living around villages and farmlands. The Imperata grassland fires occur on potential forest land and represent a major impediment for the restoration of forest cover. Thus, although the grassland fires are not classified as “forest fires” and are not even recorded at all, they are of significant importance for rehabilitation of damaged forest ecosystems.

The use of advanced prescribed burning techniques in forestry is occasionally practised in coniferous natural forests and plantations (Pinus spp., Tectona grandis), e.g. in the Philippines. The concept of Early Burning is common in some other places in the seasonal forests in order to reduce fuel loads at the beginning of the dry season.

Public policies affecting wildfire impacts

Most countries in the Asia region have adopted national policies that give priority to wildfire prevention by public education and awareness raising. Legislation in many countries imposes restrictions on the use of fire for shifting cultivation and other land clearing activities (land-use change or conversion burning). However, the efficiency of enforcement of these regulations varies from country to country.

Sustainable land-use practices employed in the region to reduce wildfire hazards and wildfire risks

Efficient practices of forest management or the integration of other land-use practices to reduce wildfire hazard and risk are implemented only in a few countries. Most impressive and efficient is the systematic establishment of shaded fuelbreaks (greenbelts) in China (Shu Lifu 1998; see also country report China, this volume). These fuelbreaks are buffer zones of 10 to 20 m widths on which low-flammability hardwoods are grown commercially. They are strategically located on mountain ridges and along other topographically suitable locations and have a total length of 172 100 km.

Community involvement in fire management activities

The involvement of local communities or individuals in forest fire prevention and control by enforcement through the forest police often has proven inefficient because people were not adequately prepared (informed or trained) or took advantage of fire protection. The philosophy of Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) represents an approach in which local communities actively participate and benefit from fire prevention, wildfire preparedness and fire suppression activities. This approach has recently been designated Community-Based Fire Management (CBFM).

The CBFM strategy of the Indonesia-German IFFM project in the Indonesian province East Kalimantan includes the following six steps which are exemplary for other projects (Wityanara 2000):

1. Orientation process/identification of villages

• Villages selected particularly in or near fire hazardous forest areas.

• Formal and informal meetings carried out with key resource persons from the local government and communities to discuss fire management approaches.

• Socio-economic studies carried out to identify and assess the motivation, potential and constraints (problems) of local communities in the project areas with respect to fire management.

2. Fire prevention campaigns

• Extension meetings carried at strategic locations/villages with participants from up to 10 sub-villages/hamlets.

• Villagers are encouraged to form volunteer village fire crews.

3. Fire prevention and suppression training for volunteer village fire crews

• Hand tools provided to each participating sub-village/hamlet.

• Crews provide for proper storage and maintenance of hand tools (small warehouse, standard operating procedures, etc.).

4. Institutionalizing of fire prevention work at village level

• Participatory planning workshop at village level (with representatives of village fire crews, formal and informal leaders), which also considers gender issues.

• Workshop results proposed to local and provincial government.

• Province government should provide for legal framework as part of the overall fire management system.

• Village fire crews integrated in “village structure”.

5. Training of Trainers

• Up to five trained villagers per district appointed by village crews to participate.

• Village trainers to extend village fire prevention programs in close cooperation with crews of the provincial forestry service and concession crews.

• Job descriptions provided, also compensation for services by local government.

6. Networking

• Regular meetings established between crew bosses of village fire crews, the forestry extension service and other involved government agencies, and concessions.

• Communication established. Early warning information reaches the local level in time, and vice versa.

The India country report of this regional report describes the Joint Forest Management (JFM) Committees that have been established at the village level to involve people in forest protection and conservation. At present there are 36 165 JFM committees throughout the country, covering an area of more than 10.24 million hectares. These JFM committees also have been given responsibilities to protect the forests from fires.

In December 2000 the IUCN-WWF supported project FireFight South East Asia, in cooperation with the Regional Community Forestry Training Center (RECOFTC) convened a preparatory International Workshop on: Community Based Fire Management (Bangkok, Thailand). The workshop provided a forum to review existing community-based fire management approaches and assess the different avenues for community involvement in fire management (independent and in conjunction with projects, government agencies, and NGOs) and synthesized the existing lessons learned into a workshop document that will further promote community based approaches in the region.


GFMC 2000. Global Fire Monitoring Center, with Int. Forest Fire News (IFFN)

Shu Lifu 1998. The study and planning of firebreaks in China. Int. Forest Fire News

Wityanara, H.Uuh Aliyudin. 2000. Initial steps towards forest fire prevention in East Kalimantan / Indonesia: The integrated forest fire management approach. ISDR Educational kit – Disaster Prevention, Education and Youth – Wildfires. International Strategy for Diaster Reduction, Geneva – San José, Costa Rica.

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