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Annex IX



Large areas of savannah and mixed forest grasslands in the Asia Pacific region experience forest fires every year, particularly in the dry zones of central and northern Asia. Agricultural land, vegetation and forest in the humid tropics although less prone to small fires are also affected by large-scale outbreaks. In recent years, their impact worldwide has been rather pronounced. Not all of them are disasters. In fact the majority are used to meet objectives that are often essential to sustaining livelihood. Their impact on agriculture and other areas can be severe, especially when assessed indirectly. Addressing their effects on agriculture involves the application of sensible and tested measures and requires the participation of a wide range of stakeholders in planning. The key elements concern strategies to prevent, prepare and respond to an outbreak, and most importantly to recover from it. The governments of many countries lack an understanding of the socio-economic and human issues that surround vegetation, agriculture, communities and fires.


1. All countries in the Asia Pacific Region experience forest fires, although the extent of their impact may not get the same attention as those in Indonesia, which were dramatically captured on film. Every year, large areas of savannah and mixed forest grassland, particularly in the dry zones of central and northern Asia are affected by fires, but few reliable figures are available to document their extent, the losses incurred and effects. Agricultural land, vegetation and forest in the humid tropics, although less prone to burning, also experience large fires, with the most serious occurring in 1997/98 in South East Asia. They are also a permanent threat in the sub temperate and temperate zones of China where the Heilongjiang fire in particular burnt more than 1.85 million hectares in 1987.

2. Fire has for hundreds of years been viewed by many as an environmental horror - one of the disasters humans encounter at the hands of nature. It is linked to reduced soil fertility, destruction of biodiversity, global warming and damage to forest, land resources and human assets. These contentions however, fail to make important distinctions between the different types of fires, especially the wrong ones that occur in the wrong places (Corner House, 2000).

3. The majority of outbreaks around the world are a result of human activity. It has been estimated that annually, they burn up to 500 million hectares of woodland, open forest, tropical and sub-tropical savannah, 10 to 15 million hectares of boreal and temperate forest and 20 to 40 million hectares of tropical forest (Goldammer, 1995). Most of them are intentional and are meant to achieve an objective.

4. In late 1997 and early 1998, fires in South East Asia, South and Central America, Europe, Russia, China, Australia and the USA attracted international attention. A combination of dry conditions caused by El Niño and uncontrolled burning took their toll on the world's forest. According to the UN, "unchecked land, bush and forest fires in various parts of the world are rapidly becoming a disaster of regional and global proportions," (UNDAC, 1998).

5. In South East Asia, from Papua New Guinea in the east to Malaysia and Indonesia in the west, fires damaged hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest and other land. They were most intense in Indonesia, where in Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, Irian Jaya and Sumatra they destroyed more than 9.5 million hectares, of which 49 per cent, or 4,655,000 ha were forested. Their economic cost was estimated to be between US$ 5 and US$ 10 billion. At their height, the smoke from them stretched over one million square kilometres and adversely affected the health of 70 million people.

6. Other tropical forests were also burnt in 1997/98. In Brazil, an estimated 3.3 million hectares of land were destroyed, of which 1.5 million were rainforest in the northern Amazonian state of Roraima. In Mexico and Central America, a further 1.5 million hectares were burnt, affecting numerous ecological reserves and national parks. Millions of people throughout the region, including those from southern United States suffered from smoke. Temperate forests were also razed. In the US and Canada, more than five million hectares were damaged. In Russia, the UN estimated that fires devastated 2 million hectares. The total for 1997 and 1998 was more than 22 million hectares, of which one third was non-forested and comprised mainly agricultural land.

7. Fires and their effects have caught the attention of national and international bodies, including, the United Nations and others. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio noted the problems of forests and fires (SCBD, 1998):

"Forests worldwide are being threatened by uncontrolled degradation and conversion to other forms of land uses, influenced by increasing human needs; agricultural expansion; and environmentally harmful mismanagement, including, lack of forest fires control, ... "(United Nations, 1992) [Chapter 11, Para. 10]

8. This was reiterated in the Eleventh World Forestry Congress (Antalya, 1998). In its declaration, countries were asked to develop and implement policies and management practices aimed at minimising destructive wildfires on forestland. FAO has, for many years, provided information and technical assistance on them to its member countries and to the international community. Fire management and its related activities and impact are considered an integral part of conserving and sustaining natural resources.

9. Publicised fires and their seasons are commonly associated with severe droughts. Their effects on agriculture, the ecosystem and livelihood of people, make them vulnerable to the impact of fire and contribute to situations (dryness and fuel build up through vegetation stress and plant death) that intensify the spread and severity of more fires. It is difficult to separate the effects of fire and drought, as the two are inter-connected and fire outbreaks are related to the prevailing degree of dryness.

1.1 Definitions

1.1.1 Forest Fires

10. Many of those discussed and of concern in the Asia Pacific region are not "forest" ones, although they are often described as such. They occur primarily in non-forested areas including agricultural, degraded lands and fallows. Often such terrain is classified as forested land, even when they are no longer forested (Bowen and Borger, 2001).

11. Scientists, policy makers and resource managers have developed certain terminologies to describe fires occurring in vegetation. They encompass those in all vegetation types including forest, grassland, scrubland and agricultural land. Intentional ones to achieve human objectives are termed controlled or prescribed burns. Accidental, escaped or deliberate ones without objectives are called wildfires (Schweithelm, 1998). The two key questions regarding vegetation fires that have not been adequately answered in most parts of the world relate to who started them and for what reasons.

12. It is important to know why people start fires so that they can be persuaded to change this practice. In most cases, they are deliberately lit to achieve a management purpose. There may actually be very few, if any, "uncontrolled" ones in South East Asia, except in extreme drought years when deliberate fires may exceed the boundaries set by those who light them (Box 1). In some cases, while desirable, there is little or no opportunity to alter the frequency, area burnt or location due to the motivations for starting them and the available alternatives (Moore, 2001).

Box 1
Some community responses and actions on fires (after Vayda 1999) include:

  • Descriptions of swidden (ladang) cultivation identify the practices of felling trees in the area to be burnt, so that the fire will not spread to adjacent abandoned sites. Kantu' Dayaks who rely on damp conditions in the surrounding forest create firebreaks as a protective measure when necessary and they sometimes also dig small ditches on the borders of swiddens.
  • In 1997, some Dayak shifting cultivators did not dare burn at all until after the first rains had fallen.
  • In some communities, traditional law (adat) imposes fines on those whose fire spread to cultivated swidden plots.
  • In the village of Teluk Pandan which is within the boundary of East Kalimantan's Kutai National Park, the following series of rules were imposed:
    • Notify the village head of intention to burn,
    • Presence of all able-bodied men armed with tools and other gear from households who need to burn and those of adjacent properties to stop the fire, once started, from going out of control,
    • Landowners who need to burn must supply the necessary food and drinks,
    • A compensation schedule varying with the type of property (e.g. orange trees, cocoa, other corps and personal property) damaged by escaped fires is imposed,
    • The village head who experienced the 1982/83 fires, realised that they may recur at any time in the future, and thus recommended the setting up of these rules to the community, and
    • An analysis of the distribution of hotspots by satellite imagery indicated that most areas used for traditional or shifting cultivation experience the lowest fire incidence (Stolle et. al., 1998). This suggests that fire management by such groups is reasonably effective.

1.1.2 Farmers

13. The agricultural sector comprises various communities, ranging from subsistence farmers or groups of them, those who produce crops for sale to smallholders and large-scale agro-industrial enterprises that provide raw materials for larger processing industries or for export. The latter is currently responsible for fires that burn across large areas for long periods (Anderson and Bowen, 2000). Those utilised by companies appear to be less well managed and tend to escape the intended burn area, especially during drought, windy conditions or both (Schweithelm, 1998).

14. Among the "myths" associated with forest fires, Bowen and Borger (2001) noted that small farmers are not responsible for most of the "damage" caused by them. In South Sumatra they, generally, cultivate their two to four hectares farms on a permanent rotational basis and use fire each year to clear grass and other vegetation from the fallow section of their land (Bowen and Borger, 2001). There is no effective or affordable alternative to this because of the shortage of labour, income for herbicides and machinery for other cultivation practices. This specific example illustrates the positive use of fire in the Asia Pacific region. It can thus be an appropriate and productive tool for farmers and larger agricultural producers.

15. The inter-relationship between humans, fire and vegetation is a complex one and has been the subject of many studies and reports (Jackson and Moore, 1998). While some fires are started for a purpose, very few of those occurring are properly planned, and controlled. The benefits of good land management and the cost of poor practices are too diffuse. The implications and impacts of fires remain unclear and poorly understood in most cases (Box 2).

Box 2
People, Ecology and Fire - Complexities in the Landscape

In a fascinating study entitled `Man, fire and wild cattle in north Cambodia', Charles H. Wharton (1966) concluded: `It would appear that fire in the northern plains of Cambodia has aided in the degradation of some soils and most of the vegetation cover over the area originally clothed by sub-humid climax forests. Fire seems, however, to be an essential factor in maintaining suitable large areas of savanna forest exploitable by both herbivores and by a very small population of hardy Cambodians.'

In another study Wharton (ca 1968) concluded that: `the living wild cattle of Southeast Asia appear intimately dependent on an environment which is, if not entirely created by man and fire, certainly maintained by these agencies.'

McNeely (1995) described how in Sumbawa, Indonesia, annual fires helped maintained its grasslands and were responsible for their conversion from forests. The regular burning brought about conditions that favoured animal grazing and, in particular, supported a larger wild herbivore population than without it. The result was beneficial to both local hunters and biodiversity. McNeely highlighted how government conservation programmes `prohibited burning the savannas and hunting the main game animals... This broke down a genuine symbiosis, which had proved sustainable over long periods of time.'

1.1.3 Fire Disasters

16. Their impact on physical and social infrastructure is significant, while that on natural assets can be disastrous with dire consequences on human subsistence (Box 3). Although their scale in China (1987), Mongolia (1996) and Indonesia (1997/98) is in the "disaster" category, this is only a label used by the media. The fires of Greece (Xanthopolous, 2001) and the United States (Mutch, 2001) during 2000 were the most extensive and difficult experienced by both countries in fifty years. They were not regarded as "disasters" in many respects, except for their ecological impact and the cost incurred in extinguishing them.

Box 3
The Scale and Impact of Fires (Glover and Jessup, 1998)

The following were the total damages that arose from them:

Exceeded those assessed for purposes of legal liability in the Exxon Valdez and the Bhopal gas disasters combined,

Exceeded the funding required to provide Indonesia's 120 million rural poor with basic sanitation, water and sewerage services,

More than doubled the total foreign aid received by Indonesia annually,

Equalled ~2.5 per cent of Indonesia's gross national product; Singapore's tourism losses could have fully funded the country's community chest which supported 50 charities for three years, and

Malaysia's losses due to haze could have financed the nation's social programmes for three years.

17. However in fire management, there is no precise definition for the term "disaster" or the various stages of an outbreak. This is due partly to the fact that fire is more often than not an event and, only in some cases, a natural phenomenon. When utilised regularly, it can be a domestic necessity or an agricultural tool, but it can also be a negative force, or a combination of all these. They differ from other forms of disaster such as floods and earthquakes as they can occur on a regular basis and are directly man-made.

18. The focus on larger scale fires creates primarily a reactive approach which leads to untested and poorly prepared and conceived responses. Lesser or minor ones, outside the disaster profile, offer similar opportunities (to prevent, monitor, prepare, respond and recover from them) as major ones. They can be used as test cases and checked for efficiency and valid operational response. They are thus invaluable as they form the basis for communities to apply and refine their own understanding and approaches to fire management.

19. One viewpoint upholds that "disasters" that generate large-scale social impacts are not "natural" but distinctly man-made. Hewitt (1995) postulated that those experienced by some nations were caused by development initiatives and pressures that alter their resource base, social interaction and expose their vulnerability to such calamities

20. For the past few decades, man-made changes around the world have caused the environment to become more sensitive to fire (Colfer, forthcoming). For example, many areas that were humid tropical rain forests were altered by logging, conversion and encroachment by smallholders. This exploitation reduced the humidity which was previously higher when covered with vegetation. Wind is the most crucial weather variable in fires, followed by humidity, which comes second.

21. The "disaster" brought by fire is usually very small in geographical scale, but its effects on a single farm, individual farmer or village group can spell devastation. A combination of food shortages, financial stress, dislocation (forced or voluntary) and loss of social cohesion in the community may result (Vayda, 1999). This is much greater than the "disaster" scale, but does not necessarily retain world attention.

22. The public focus on fires is reactive and the resources made available to fight them are largely opportunistic driven (and mainly confined to expensive approaches). The long-term response should concentrate on the great number of unwanted ones that damage crops and other resources and have an adverse impact on victims. They are generally small; local in scale and in most circumstances can be easily contained.


23. Although vegetation fires in Asia impinge on local, national, regional and global air quality, biodiversity and economic resources, there is, on the whole, a lack of empirical data on their seasonal and spatial distribution (Jones, 1997). Some data is available from certain countries, but most is incomplete, thus making it difficult to provide a true picture of their annual extent in the region (Moore, 2001).

24. Similarly, the economic implication arising from them is often not assessed in a systematic manner. Despite the occurrence of very large ones worldwide in recent decades, there is no process to estimate their damage and impact on any basis. The only organised attempts in Asia and the Pacific were carried out in Indonesia by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia Program, the Indonesian State Ministry for Environment (BAPEDAL) with the United Nations Development Program (BAPEDAL & UNDP, 1998) and the Asian Development Bank National Planning Development Agency of Indonesia (BAPPENAS) (ADB & BAPPENAS, 1999). Other assessments are mainly superficial and, in many instances, prominent fires and severe fire years have not been studied for their consequences on agriculture. Research in these areas at the local level only gave some insight (Vayda 1999).

2.1 Direct Impacts

2.1.1 Agricultural Losses

25. Besides the above specific studies, the Global Fire Monitoring Centre country profiles (GFMC, 2000) and other sources (Schweithelm, 1998) contain little insight on how they affect agriculture.

26. The 1996 occurrences in Mongolia numbered more than 130, and they affected 300 million ha of forest area, 500 million ha of pastureland, and more than 371,000 inhabitants. Damage included five deaths, the destruction of 56 dwellings, 2,500 livestock, 30 winter animal shelters, 70 tonnes of hay and 10 wells (UNDP, 1996). An assessment of the 1996 and 1997 devastation highlighted the need to decentralize fire management, including the development of locally organised fire fighters and the implementation of an aggressive grassroots fire prevention/management programme (Wingard and Moody, 1998).

27. In India, the estimated 65 million people who depend on the collection of non-timber produce from forests for their livelihood suffered when fire destroyed these areas. During the summer of 1995, the hills fires of Uttar Pradesh & Himachal Pradesh were very severe and burnt an area of 677,700 ha. The quantifiable timber loss was approximately Rs 17.50 crores (US$ 43 million; Rs 1 crore = 10 million rupees). The loss of soil fertility, biodiversity and employment, soil erosion, and drying up of water sources was not calculated, but described as "immeasurable but very significant" (Bahuguna, undated).

28. Estimates of agricultural losses from the 1997/98 fires in Indonesia were based on production losses in terms of years of output (Ruitenbeek, 1999). The productivity values applied were assumed to be reflective of the land values. Large-scale palm oil plantations in Indonesia have a land value of US$ 1,000/ha, which is consistent with EEPSEA/WWF's estimate of forestland at US$ 987/ha.

29. Smallholder land is priced at approximately US$ 400/ha. This probably understates the impact of fires. Most farmers depend on land for their subsistence and, besides having to bear the loss of basic needs, fires may force them to relocate and incur additional expenses. For example, the ones in East Kalimantan compelled many to seek alternative income generating activities such as gold panning (Colfer, 2001). Mussche (2001) noted the destruction of forestland by fire. It used to be a means of livelihood, provided ecological services, and played a religious or cultural role. When destroyed, this potentially important supplement to farming is lost and recovery may, if at all possible, take some years.

30. A short-term intensive study was carried out in Indonesia as part of the Asian Development Bank Technical Assistance following the 1997/98 fires. Two provinces - Riau and East Kalimantan, were examined. The study interviewed those whose land was burnt and it indicated that for owner-operators, the average area burnt was 1.7 ha (Riau) and 6.1 ha (E. Kalimantan). The average for village land was much higher at 333.5 ha (Riau) and 231.1 ha (E. Kalimantan). The loss calculated for households was IDR 13,704,800 (US$ 1,700). Most was incurred for fruit trees (60%) and timber (21%). The remainder (10%) for households was for food crops, buildings (very few) and vehicles (very few).

31. These figures highlight the groups that suffer most frequently, namely, smallholders, individuals and communities. Although individual loss is fiscally small, it is crucial to those who are affected by it, and when assessed as a group, the total amount of damage can be very large. The fire affecting each area is also small, and by itself, is unlikely to be traumatic or life threatening.

32. More importantly, the damage to crops continues beyond the year of its occurrence, as lost ones are replaced, entailing both establishment cost and other efforts to ensure survival. Income from perennials may cease. The sufferings borne by the local people may not be measured in monetary terms, but they remain serious. When fires happen at a time when the tree crops mature and financial returns commence, both the new technology adopted and the six to ten years of work committed to them are wiped out. Under these circumstances, farmers become disheartened and confused, and in the case of Kalimantan, they leave their holdings after such calamities.

33. In Indonesia, the loss of estate crops including re-establishment and production losses were calculated at over US$ 300 million for an area of 90,856 ha (ADB & BAPPENAS, 1999). Affected crops included oil palm, rubber, coconut, coffee, sugar, cocoa and cashews. Larger companies may have insured their crops or possess the capacity to absorb losses (although this would be limited during the economic crisis that began in 1997). Damage of this scale remains a major difficulty for the agricultural industry. This results not only in direct losses, but disrupts both current and projected raw material flow.

34. There are many instances where smallholders form part of the growing supply chain for large enterprises. They are likely to face the same fate as independent farmers, but perhaps to a lesser degree because of their access to and support from the big companies.

2.1.2 Other Types of Losses>

35. Some non-quantifiable but identifiable losses suffered include seeds for future crops that are destroyed when the immature ones are burnt. Potential reduction in photosynthesis activity is predicted (Glover and Jessup, 1997), and prices of food, consumables and other inputs necessary to re-establish and sustain farms increase during the post-fire or drought periods.

2.2 Indirect Impact

36. Forest fires destroy the watershed, cause erosion, degrade water quality and reduce its quantity. The combined depreciation (not only for agriculture) as a result of the 1997/98 Indonesian fires has been estimated at US$ 1,767 million (ADB & BAPPENAS, 1999).

37. By far, the bulk of the financial loss came from adverse health impacts such as persistent smoke, which can be severe (GTZ, 1998). It was the worst health hazard and prevalent in peat areas which were burnt to prepare for the establishment of agricultural crops, primarily oil palm (Wakker, 1998). An estimate of all those affected showed that those engaged directly or indirectly in agriculture were worst hit, but they may have been disproportionately represented for being sited close to the fires. Nearly 3 million lost working days were calculated to have cost more than US$ 17 million (ADB & BAPPENAS, 1999).

38. Infrastructure loss is often not severe, although extensive disruption to railway lines, roads (bridges) and power and communications transmission was experienced, notably in the 1987 fires in China (Smart et. al., 1998). Here, the destruction of agricultural processing facilities and dwellings was minimal, and this was also the case with the Heilongjiang fire, which was considered exceptional, in that only a number of small cities were burnt to the ground together with their associated infrastructure and industries.

39. Tourism although not related to agriculture is an important consideration, and it can be significantly affected, as was the case with the 1997/98 fires in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The loss from reduced tourist visits was estimated at US$ 111 million (Glover and Jessup, 1997).


40. No one blueprint can control harmful forest fires. Each situation has its own ecological, social, economic and political characteristics that require study when developing strategies to reduce the adverse effects on people and ecosystems. Efficient fire management demands the involvement of a number of concerned stakeholders (government, non-government, community and private sectors) in the planning and implementation stages.

41. Although many fires could have been prevented, they will continue to occur, have an impact on agriculture and degrade forest, as long as governments fail to thoroughly examine both the direct and indirect causes underlying their occurrence. In practice, this means the public sector must device programmes that influence people's utilisation of them, for example, by enacting and enforcing laws that emphasise their prevention and ultimately change farmers' attitudes towards their overall use.

42. Governments must ensure that their laws and policies are fair (i.e. there is equitable sharing of costs and benefits and a recognition of community-user rights), and remove perverse incentives that encourage people to start harmful fires. They must also practise sound fire management prior to the event by equipping natural resource managers with the skills and backing to gain a solid understanding of the role of fire in the environment and to develop the know-how to utilise it productively.

43. A growing population's continued dependence on agriculture, forest, woodland and grassland resources, coupled with an uncertain future caused by climatic changes, give added importance to fire management. The following are three basic policy alternatives: (Landsberg, 1997).

  1. Fire exclusion. It eliminates outbreaks from specific areas such as agricultural land that requires protection from them. This demands a well-developed infrastructure, trained firefighters, appropriate equipment and local co-operation.
  2. Absence of fire suppression. This is only applicable in some wild and protected areas. Under this option, fire is allowed to perform its natural role in the ecosystem. However, it is difficult in many parts of the world due to the presence of dense populations in or near forests, woodlands and grasslands, and because public opinion has been, and mainly still is, opposed to any fire in such terrain.
  3. Integrated fire management. It encompasses a number of components such as determining the objectives of the area, their inclusion in plans prepared to meet them and their implementation. It is important that community leaders and members of the public be involved in this exercise. Integrated and appropriate infrastructure needs to be in place so that the prevention of, preparation for, response to and recovery from fires can be co-ordinated on a suitable scale (local, provincial, national). Fire fighting crews, including the locals where necessary, should be equipped and trained (without automatically requiring outside assistance). An awareness campaign at the national, state, urban and rural levels to educate the population in preventive measures is equally crucial.

44. A fire management framework, to be successful, requires a clear understanding of needs and identification of steps to meet the desired aims. Many models and approaches have been evolved worldwide. A general one is illustrated in Attachment 1. They have, by various ways and with varying degrees of success, attempted to fit in with national and local demands and resources. Here, the key role of the government is supervisory. The framework is best built from four discrete components; namely, prevention, preparedness (or pre-suppression), response (suppression) and recovery.

45. To be effective, its evolution requires the appropriate development of:

  1. Methods that utilise the abilities of the local communities and component activities for fire prevention, pre-suppression and suppression,
  2. Mechanisms for inter-organisational co-operation between and among all those involved and affected, including individuals,
  3. Co-ordination prior to and during fires, and
  4. A national level action plan that appropriately oversees, integrates and standardises administrative procedures, training programmes, strategies, and equipment.

46. An essential first step when evaluating fires is to analyse clearly their context and causes (both direct and indirect), those affected and other interested parties to give a true picture of the "problem" (bearing in mind that there may be a few "uncontrolled" ones in various parts of the region). Other valuable information to support a further review includes a knowledge of their history, their social, ecological and economic implications, their intensity, spread rate and duration, their environmental vulnerability (which part of the landscape is sensitive to outbreaks), and an assessment of detection and suppression capabilities.

47. This work requires maps (on vegetation type, topography, land tenure, infrastructure, ignition distribution), tools to predict their behaviour and demographic information. They may not be available from all countries.

3.1 Prevention

48. It covers all measures that help deter outbreaks or assist in reducing them. A comprehensive prevention programme will need to employ professionals to minimise risks (lessen ignition), hazards (difficulties of tackling fires when they start), and damages (assets that may be affected). Enforcement personnel focus on risks, while engineers deal with hazards and exposures. They involve legislating laws that regulate fire use, exercising controls, promoting education programmes to raise awareness, training fire users, publishing a number of relevant guides and tools, and implementing fuel reduction mechanisms (e.g. by burning, grazing and other means), and fire containment features (e.g. roads, fire and fuel breaks, etc.).

3.2 Preparedness and Early Warning

49. Preparedness (pre-suppression) means taking the necessary actions to ensure that organisations are ready to carry out preventive measures. To succeed, there must be management planning, monitoring of meteorological and fuel conditions, and early warning. Following an evaluation of conditions, the state of preparedness is identified and relevant steps taken. It also includes establishing, training and equipping fire management units. This means implementing the necessary communication network, creating a fire danger rating and public notification system, building appropriate detection and suppression resources and infrastructure, and having a competent management staff.

3.3 Response

50. It demands the adoption of appropriate methods that are the key factors to the successful containment of forest fires. Thus, it is essential that effective plans exist to handle them. The authorities concerned must be able to make the right decisions from the range of options available, i.e., know the ones to suppress, while allowing others to continue burning, have clear responsibilities and co-ordination mechanisms and the ability to accelerate measures to deal with abnormal ones. The public sector must lend support by making available the resources to successfully monitor them.

51. Response (also termed fire-fighting or suppression) is tantamount to controlling and terminating unwanted fires. It usually gets the most media coverage and is influenced public and political opinion. However, relevant reactions concentrate on mobilising plans, establishing operational responsibilities, procedures and management systems, and providing information access and decision support tools.

52. The response mechanism goes through four stages, namely, detecting and reporting an outbreak, followed by the first response, then containment and control and finally mopping up and patrolling until it is safe, i.e. the assurance that the fire will not re-ignite.

3.4 Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

53. After containment, there remains the need to prevent a spiral recurrence and further degradation in the short-term, and to help re-establish the original structure, biodiversity and productivity of the burnt land in the long-term. Failure to implement appropriate restoration strategies will result in vulnerable people living under even more precarious conditions. However, in reality, they are usually accorded little attention by the media, national governments and international organisations. They can, nevertheless, be achieved with the aid of damage assessment tools, recovery assistance plans, rehabilitation of infrastructure, community welfare assistance, and by reducing economic loss (e.g. by salvaging crops, replanting and repairing infrastructure), and undertaking environmental repair.

3.5 Sustainable Development

54. Although fires are regarded as environmental hazards, solutions to them are predominantly economic and social in nature. In many cases, they present a classic example of the failure to establish a balance between society and the environment. A fundamental goal of all national policy with respect to them is to create a range of practical options that can be implemented by both the public and private sectors.

55. Many laudable but superficial policies produce a number of negative side effects, one of which is the persistent recurrence of fires. Governments control national assets, including forests that are regarded as natural endowments. However poor management, weak enforcement and political risks can restrict market forces that may support sustainable natural resource use and health. Agencies with small budgets are often ill equipped to manage them efficiently, and this is reflected in the low priority given to them relative to industrialization and traditional development. Benefits derived from them may not reflect their true value and are thus treated as assets to be reinvested in "growth".

56. The public and private sectors do not recognise that fires are a manifestation of policy, management and operational failure. Their successful management is warranted as they impinge on a nation's progress, the livelihood of its people, biodiversity conservation and are linked to policy issues and development pressures. Governments, donors, and international NGOs must therefore come to terms with this need.


57. Over the past two decades, fires in the Asia and Pacific region and elsewhere have brought about a series of efforts to produce guidelines and principles for national action. Those from Indonesia are an example (ITTO, 1999).

58. It appears logical that the components of a fire management system should be applicable from the local or district to the provincial level. The government plays a key part by providing the legislative and policy framework and the structures that make it possible for consistent implementation nationwide. More importantly, this will ensure that there are adequate resources to meet any outbreak. Many of the measures needed to contain fires are not inherently complex nor do they require excessive investment.

4.1 Government

59. Its over-reaching role is one of partnership, support, establishing standards, data collation, monitoring and co-ordination. The following is primarily its responsibility:

4.1.1 Land Use Planning and the Regulatory Framework

60. The problems associated with fires permeate all sectors of society. To solve them, policies governing natural resource use must be equipped to meet a series of interrelated and fundamental challenges. These include capacity building in integrated planning techniques, priority setting, recognition of informal property regimes, enforcement of land-use codes (if they are in place), and careful selection and monitoring of both small and large scale land use.

61. Sustainable development principles that relate to natural resource management must be incorporated into fire management systems in a practical and tested manner, by applying the lessons learned from case studies to develop both appropriate and adequate local and national policies. Those that emerge should be directed towards stopping the outright destruction of the environment and large-scale economic loss to society.

62. The institutional framework drawn up by governments should clearly identify the land tenure system, establish fire agencies, define their jurisdiction and responsibilities and identify funding and co-ordinating arrangements for them.

4.1.2 Prevention

63. It should incorporate guidelines, have a consistent approach and the central government should be totally committed and take the lead. In short, its core role is to educate, legislate, enforce, plan, develop and finally implement adequate measures that will prevent fires. This means working in unity with the provincial and local governments and other stakeholders.

4.1.3 Preparedness (Early Warning Systems)

64. The local and provincial level government in partnership with other stakeholders are more often the relevant authorities that can prepare for outbreaks. The central government is only involved on an occasional basis, such as monitoring and predicting climate and weather conditions. The main role of the provincial and local government and other stakeholders is to mobilise and co-ordinate plans, utilise the mass media to give early warning, establish fire danger rating systems and means of public notification, provide fire detection, suppression and communication resources and infrastructure, and introduce fire training systems and tools (to ensure a competent fire management team).

4.1.4 Response

65. The initial response is entirely localised. When the local authority is unable to handle the situation, district, provincial and national involvement will be needed. In extreme or unusual circumstances, international support may also be required.

66. To effectively respond, the provincial and local government and other stakeholders must be able to mobilise plans including response triggers and levels, conduct operations and procedures, provide information access and decision support tools, and enforce management systems (command and control of fire-fighting and other resources).

4.1.5 Restoration

67. As with response, it is also primarily a local responsibility. Technical and administrative planning is at district, provincial or national levels, but all levels are responsible for the provision of damage assessment tools, recovery plans and infrastructure, and community welfare assistance.

68. The provincial and local government and other stakeholders are responsible for reducing economic loss (e.g. salvaging crops, replanting and infrastructure repair), and environmental repair.

4.1.6 Assembling a Fire Management System

69. Prior to developing a fire management system, it is recommended that an analysis be undertaken to ascertain the cause of fires, their locations, define the appropriate levels of fire response and use, and develop danger rating systems to support planning and operations.

70. This achievement depends to a large extent on the collection of fire data that enhances our perception of outbreaks. There are, at present, in the Asia Pacific region some sound analyses of fires from satellite data (Anderson and Bowen, 2000). Although these and other efforts are timely, their relevance is limited in the absence of local data, thus restricting further progress and development to mitigate fire disasters.

71. The process of collecting relevant data has been addressed many times and for many years by a great number of people with the relevant interest and expertise. Among them are experts from the FAO and the International Tropical Timber Organisation. The suggestions for consistent and standardised collection of core data by countries have been put forward as recommendations to FAO (1999), ITTO (1997) and the Consultative Group on Indonesian Forests (Dieterle, 1997) among others.

72. However none of the proposals made by international organisations have been implemented. The potential importance of the information to all the affected and responsible stakeholders should be made known and opportunities given to demonstrate the value of collecting simple sets of data on fires. Governments must take the initiative here.

4.2 Best System and Practice

73. Many large-scale plantation and agricultural industries have, on their own, evolved effective systems of fire use (Cheng Hai, 2000). In some cases this has resulted in practices that no longer use open burning (Golden Hope Plantations, nd). The active involvement of the private sector in developing and improving them is highly desirable. Their transfer to all those who require them should be supported by all stakeholders.

74. Participation by the local people, who usually possess abundant indigenous knowledge, can be considered mandatory for successful fire and natural resource management. Their involvement should be encouraged and rewarded. A good understanding of the nation's socio-economic fabric is essential for continuous interaction and feedback. Traditional know-how may be supported by "scientific" knowledge and the blending of both may be necessary to achieve the desired goals. The technical expertise, scientific knowledge, international perspective, and financial resources required to realise them may, initially, require outside expertise that is often funded by a third party. Intervention therefore amounts to a process of negotiation with both experts and the community, with the latter perhaps restricted by ecological reality and the former constrained by socio-economic and political reality.

75. Community based management to prevent, prepare, respond and recover from fires is a potentially effective model to consider (Ganz et. al., 2001). Support from the government and community sectors is mainly through existing structures and agencies, rather than large capital investment or heavy resource commitment. Examples can be found in Lao (London, in press), Vietnam (van Chieu, in press), Mongolia (Ing, 2000), Indonesia (Abberger, in press), Thailand (Hoare, 1999), India (Sehgal, in press; Kumar, in press) and the Philippines (Castillo, in press).

76. Local level initiatives alone will not have sufficient clout to introduce national-level policy reforms. A national framework will be necessary to have the desired leverage and to sustain its existence. Notably, natural resource management, and therefore fire management, is linked to economic valuation and the challenge is in balancing social, economic and environmental demands.


77. Without a comprehensive package of policies and legal and institutional backing, fires cannot be effectively controlled and their impact on agriculture managed. An understanding of the interlocking socio-economic and human issues that surround them and the environment and the needs of various stakeholders is a key starting point (SCBD, 1998). To attain this, two initial steps conducted by an inter-disciplinary team that incorporate specific agricultural and vegetation fire expertise are essential. First, an assessment of the magnitude of the problem in collaboration with concerned stakeholders by carefully analysing available information, with the aim of providing an accurate annotation of the cost implications of forest and vegetation fires, including major social, economic and environmental impacts, and identification of critical/priority provinces and areas. The second is a comprehensive review of policies, laws and regulations and institutional arrangements that are related to fires. This should be complemented by a stock-take of proven technologies and policy instruments. Based on such an assessment, policy options could be drawn up and an agenda on technology transfer at regional and national levels and capacity building assistance could be evolved.

78. The following are additional recommendations to address the issue of the impact of fires on agriculture:

  1. Develop land-use laws that permit sensible but discourage their reckless use,
  2. Review those and economic conditions that directly result in harmful forest fires,
  3. Put in place reliable monitoring systems that include the ecological and human effects of fire, and report them annually in an internationally acceptable manner,
  4. Involve key stakeholders (especially local communities and land managers) in forest and fire management planning and, where appropriate, implementation. If necessary, assist them obtain the knowledge, skills and resources they need to participate effectively,
  5. Mandate and equip natural resource managers, in partnership with communities and relevant stakeholders to promote a balance between fire prevention, response and restoration, and discourage strategies that rely too heavily on fire-fighting as the primary means of dealing with forest fires,
  6. Build awareness among policy makers, the public and the media as to the underlying causes of such fires, their associated social and economic costs and the importance of handling them in an organised manner, and
  7. Support research that improves the country's understanding of them and allocate resources to enhance comprehension of country-specific cases.

A Fire Management - A Systematic Approach

Attachment 1
A Generalised Fire Management System

System Tools

System Process Components

Maps (vegetation type, topography, land tenure, assets, roads, landscape features, ignition distribution etc.)
Fire behaviour prediction tools
Spatial databases
Demographic information

1. Fire Likelihood Ignition history
2. Consequence of Fire on Assets
Economic Intensity Value
Social Spread rate Vulnerability
Environmental Duration


Management Objectives

Fire use laws/regulations, enforcement programmes
Planning controls
Education programmes

Fire behaviour guides, ignition and control resources, planning and reporting tools
Firebreak construction guides
Building construction codes

Climate and weather monitoring & prediction
Fire Danger Rating system.
FDR public notification means.
Detection & suppression resource needs assessment.
Fire detection, suppression & communications resources.
Fire training systems and tools
Response mobilisation plans

Prevention Strategies

  • Regulate fire use, educate fire users, technology improvements, development planning controls

Mitigation Strategies

  • Fuel reduction (e.g. by burning, grazing & other means)
  • Reduce asset vulnerability (e.g. through building construction standards)
  • Establish/maintain containment features (e.g. roads, fire and fuel breaks etc.)

Preparedness Strategies

  • Early warning/predictive systems
  • Community warning mechanisms
  • Detection and response infrastructure
  • Communications systems
  • Mobilisation & co-ordination plans
  • Competent fire control staff

Response Strategies

  • Response triggers and levels

Operational Plans

Operational responsibilities and procedures.
Strategic information access tools
Decision support tools
Operational management systems

Detection and Reporting
First Response
Containment and Control
Mop Up and Patrol
Command and Control


Fire Damage/Loss

Damage assessment tools
Recovery assistance plans and infrastructure

Community Welfare assistance
Economic loss reduction (e.g. salvage logging and replanting, infrastructure repair)
Environmental repair


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* Prepared by P. Durst, RAP Senior Forestry Officer; and FAO Consultant, Peter F. Moore, Coordinator Project Fire Fight South East Asia, Indonesia.

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