Cambodia: Forest and Land Fire Prevention (IFFN No. 20)

Forest and Land Fire Prevention in Cambodia

(IFFN No. 20 – March 1999, p. 2-5)


Introduction

Cambodia, a tropical country in continental South East Asia, is situated North of Equator within latitudes 10° and 15° N and longitudes 102° and 108° E. It has common border with Thailand in the Northwest, with Lao in the North, with Viet Nam in the Southeast, and with the Gulf of Siam in the South, with a total area of 181,155 km2, a total population of 10.2 million people (1995), and with a population growth rate of 2.8%, The settlement of the population is concentrated to the central plain. The population of this area is about 318 per km2. The coast region has a density of region has density of 60 per km2 and the upland regions decrease as low as 1 per km2. Furthermore, 85% of the population are rural farmers who depend on agriculture and forest products for their subsistence.

For the national development the forest is one of Cambodia’s most significant natural resources which covered 13.2 million ha or 73% of the country’s total land area in 1969. It has been reduced by 2 million ha in 1993. The main cause of deforestation are growing population and the increase of shifting cultivation, fuel wood harvesting, logging and fire.

Climate

Most of Cambodia’s territory is in the tropics and its climate is greatly influenced by the tropical monsoon circulating system and its topography. There are two well-defined seasons, namely the rainy and dry seasons. The raining season begins in May to October followed by dry period from November to April. The average annual rainfall ranges from 1,500 mm to 3,000 mm. The average annual temperature ranges, in most part of the country from 25° C in late December to 30° C or over in early May, with humidity ranging from 15 to 70% in the early part of the year, rising to 85-90% in August and September.

Forest Resources

Forest resources are one of most important natural resources of the country. Following an inventory implemented before 1970 with the help of the U.S. AID, the forest cover was 13,227,100 ha or 73% of the country’s total land area. The forest cover data are summarized in Table 1.

Changes in forest cover that has occurred over that last twenty years are shown in Table 2. The 1993 estimates are from FAO/UNDP/MRC Land Cover Atlas (1994). The forest are increasingly at risk, because of the demand for agricultural lands, timber and fuel wood due to accelerated development programs and increase in population and forest fire.

Declining of forest cover during the last two decades is 11.23%, of which about 1,110,000 ha are dry land forests and 316,900 ha edaphic forests. In percentage terms the loss in forest cover is about 0.56% per annum compared to about 1% average for neighbouring countries. Land-use encroachment is the leading cause of new conversion. In addition fires, often set by shifting cultivators and other forest dwellers, are a major cause of forest degradation and impede regeneration of woody plants causing erosion and drought.

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Fig. 1. Public fire prevention education in Cambodia address the main causes of careless fire starts, e.g. the use of fire underneath dipterocarp trees to stimulate resin yield, hunting, and cigarette smoking.

Forest Fire in Cambodia

Fire, though not widespread and considered not a serious threat to the forests of Cambodia, could become a threat if the degradation continues at the current rate creating favourable conditions for large-scale forest fire. Fires occur annually in the natural hardwood forests, pine forests, bamboo forests and forest plantations during summer months.

There are three main natural forest types: evergreen, mixed evergreen and deciduous. Fire occur frequently in the deciduous, pine and bamboo forests during the dry season. Most of the species that constitute the deciduous forest shed their foliage almost 100% during the dry season that lasts from December to August, building up a heavy inflammable fuel load on the ground. In addition the leaf shed opens the ground surface to a greater sun exposure leading to condition conducive to a high degree of fire hazard.

Root Causes of Forest Fire

There are many causes of fire most of which can be attributed to local people related to customs and traditions:

  • Fire spreading from shifting cultivation that is widely practised still on a large scale in Cambodia especially by the hill tribe people
  • Wilful igniting grass growth to clear oxcart roads and footpaths leading to the forests
  • Setting of fire just before rains in open lands close to forests to promote grass growth (pasture) with the rains for feeding cattle
  • Setting of fire underneath dipterocarp trees to obtain higher yield of resin from the tree
  • Setting of fire to trap or poaching wildlife or chase away bees to collect honey
  • Setting of fire from throwing cigarette light butt or other fire along forest roads and boundaries of forest or in the forest
  • Carelessness of workers when starting chainsaws and other machinery
  • Carelessness of people abandoning cooking fires

Fire Prevention Measures

The prevention of forest fires and other wildland fire management measures in Cambodia are as follows:

  • Every year each province has to establish a forest fire commission during the dry season which includes Provincial, District, Village and forestry authorities
  • Cooperation and active involvement of local communities, the private sectors
  • Local communities live near or in the forest has responsibility to assist in the suppression of fires and report to nearest forest or local authorities
  • Member of public, students, monks, police and armed forces should assist forest authority in the suppression fire
  • Those who cause fire will be arrested and sent to the prison for 3-15 years (Cambodian Forest Law No.35 in closure No. 35)
  • Posters displayed at local markets, in museums, trade fairs and along heavily travelled roads and trails are often effective ways to convey fire prevention messages to the public. There is also a series of photographs with explanatory captions that demonstrate damages resulting from forest fire
  • Forest fire prevention education programmes are provided to communities villager, schools and universities
  • Public information and education programmes utilize the media (television, radio, newspapers, posters)
  • Identification of forest areas with high fire risk
  • Protection of these forests by surrounding them with fire lines
  • Promote the active participation of concession holders, contractors, local communities on the base of their capabilities and their enhancement through fire management training in fire, provision of appropriate equipment and incentives whenever feasible
  • Rewards and incentive to those who report forest fires and assist in the suppression forest fire
  • Annual letters to local leaders or influential people, within a letter sent for another purpose, or to all residents in an area of particularly high risk or hazard

Conclusions

Forest and Land Fire in Cambodia are not a serious threat to the forest area, but it occurs every year and damages many hectares of forest area. Beside the lack of expertise, funding and equipment for assisting suppression fire it is a matter of fact that a lot of these fires could be prevented by an enhanced knowledge of the value of the forest by the local community.

Tab. 1. Forest cover of Cambodia before 1970

Forest type

Area (ha)

%

Dry deciduous forest

5,296,700

40.04

Dense moist evergreen forest

3,955,300

29.90

Dense semi-evergreen forest

2,504,000

18.93

Dwarf evergreen forest

288,700

2.18

Mangrove forest

38,300

0.29

Rear mangrove forest

57,500

0.43

Bamboo forest

387,400

2.95

Flooded forest

681,400

5.15

Pine forest

17,800

0.13

Total

13,227,100

100.00

Tab. 2. Change in Forest cover by forest type between 1973 and 1993

Forest Type

1973

1993

Change for the last two decades
(ha)

Change for the last two decades
(%)

Annual change
(%)

Dry land forest

11,678,600

10,568,600

-1,110,000

-9.50

-4.8

Evergreen

6,876,400

4,763,300

-2,113,100

-30.73

-1.5

Mixed

977,300

977,300

Deciduous

4,792,900

4,301,200

-491,700

-10.26

-0.51

Coniferous

9,300

9,800

500

+5.38

0.27

Secondary

517,000

517,000

Edaphic forest

1,032,500

715,600

-316,900

-30.69

-1.53

Flooded

937,900

370,700

-567,200

-60.48

-3.02

Flooded secondary

259,800

259,800

Mangrove

94,600

85,100

-9,500

-10.04

-0.50

Total

12,711,100

11,284,200

-1,462,900

-11.23

-0.56

%

70

62

Mr.Eang Savet
Forestry Officer Department of Forestry and Wildlife
40 Preah Norodom Blvd.
Phnom Penh
Cambodia Tel/Fax: ++855-23-211636
e-mail: chsang@bigpond.com.kh


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