Vegetation fires have significant impacts on the global environment, economies and societies, and the role of natural and anthropogenic fire is an important factor in maintaining stability, biodiversity and the functioning of some ecosystems. In recognition of this, international consultations since the 1990s have recommended action related to: international collaboration, capacity-building and human resource development; review mechanisms to support cooperation in fire management at bilateral, regional and international levels; establishment of international agreements aimed at sharing resources, personnel and equipment; and examination of the components of such international agreements, including overall logistical, policy and operational considerations.
In 2003 the International Wildland Fire Summit recommended principles and procedures for international cooperation in fire management, while the Global Wildland Fire Network of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) and the UN-ISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group undertook initiatives in international dialogue and cooperation. Following on these activities, the FAO Ministerial Meeting on Forests and the Seventeenth Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (March 2005) called upon FAO – in collaboration with countries and other international partners including the UN-ISDR – to develop a strategy to enhance international cooperation on wildland fires that would advance knowledge, increase access to information and resources and explore new approaches to cooperation at all levels, and to formulate voluntary guidelines on the prevention and suppression of and recovery from forest fire.
In response, in 2006 FAO convened a technical core group of international fire specialists and then held an international expert consultation to consider drafts of the strategy and voluntary guidelines. The experts agreed upon a framework built upon four pillars: (i) principles and strategic actions, as detailed in the voluntary guidelines; (ii) an implementation partnership (to be established in 2007); (iii) a global assessment of fire management; and (iv) a review of international cooperation in fire management.
The present review of international cooperation, prepared by the Global Fire Monitoring Center, addresses:
• the principles and strategic actions as detailed in Fire management: voluntary guidelines;
• Fire management: global assessment 2006, developed from the 12 regional reports on forest fire management prepared within the framework of the Global Wildland Fire Network and UN-ISDR; and
• recommendations of international consortia and conferences and the fire science community.
These references highlight a lack of capacity in integrated fire management in many countries around the world – both in human and technical resources. Many of the identified gaps in fire management capability at local, subnational, national, regional and global levels can be addressed through international cooperation. Collectively agreed and developed standards, procedures and technologies, and their joint use, will facilitate implementation of the principles and strategic actions, economize action by sharing resources and provide ample opportunity to address fire management at interagency and intersectoral levels.
The priority themes for enhancing international cooperation in fire management are clustered into four broad areas: (i) development of international standards, methods and systems for fire early warning, monitoring, impact assessment and reporting; (ii) training and technology transfer, (iii) support to policy, legal, institutional and planning frameworks; and (iv) research. For each theme, the current contributions of international actors are briefly reviewed, and some future action is proposed related to the interests and activities of each. Suggested time frames are based on a realistic assessment of priorities and the feasibility of implementation, considering the availability of funding and/or the time required for the development of systems and standards.
The review does not include all actors working at national or bilateral levels, and some actors working at multilateral or international levels may have been missed as well. Thus the review is considered an open document, which will be updated regularly as partners interested in contributing to international cooperation in fire management indicate their availability and potential contributions.
The availability of financing is essential to implementation of the strategic actions and of the coordinated action suggested in this review. In addition, active follow-up to the review – through FAO, the UN-ISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group and members of the envisaged partnership for maintaining and implementing the principles and strategic actions – will be crucial to the success of coordinated and collective international action.