The Ethiopia Wildfire Emergency 2000

February – April 2000

Follow-Up: National Round Table on Fire Management

19-20 September 2000

Between late February and early April 2000, severe forest fires occurred in the mountain forests of Ethiopia. Following a request from the government of Ethiopia the very first and successful multi-national wildland fire fighting campaign in history was initiated in a developing tropical country.

On 18 February 2000, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) of Ethiopia receives reports that uncontrolled forest fires have started in different parts of the country. On 20 February, the forest advisor to the Ministry of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (German Agency for Technical Cooperation – GTZ) contacts the GFMC and describes the situation. At this point, the extent of these fires is not yet known, but at the end of the dry season the situation looks serious. Some of the fires had started in woodland areas (lowlands) but have already encroached the neighbouring afro-montane forest areas. The MoA is very concerned about the situation and launches two reconnaissance surveys on 18 February to more accurately assess the situation. Since local capacities for firefighting are limited (no firefighting equipment and no special know-how and experience of forestry experts available), it is considered to explore whether there are any possibilities for international assistance in this matter.

On 23 February the Ministry of Agriculture receives more detailed reports on two larger forest fires in Oromiya Regional State. The other affected location is the Bale Massive in the Bale Administrative Zone. The fire encroached one of the state forests which are designated National Forest Priority Area (FPA) and reportedly burned 2500 ha.

On 27 February, the GFMC disseminates a fire situation report and calls for attention and assistance of fire specialists and government authorities in South Africa, Ethiopia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. At this stage the government of Ethiopia launches its first request for assistance from South Africa. The deployment of South African helicopters to Ethiopia to support firefighting in the remote areas is rejected due to the high demand for helicopters for rescuing people from the flood-stricken regions of Mozambique, a very prominent humanitarian task.

On 1 March, the head of GFMC leaves from headquarters (Germany) to Ethiopia. On 2 March, a first situation analysis by GFMC-GTZ is submitted to the government of Ethiopia. It is recommended to immediately request international assistance in delivering hand tools for firefighting. In addition it is recommended to accept the offer of the Republic of South Africa to deploy a team of three experts to assist the country in fighting the fires. The GTZ-GFMC team is in close contact with US institutions to continuously receive medium- to high resolution near-real time satellite maps (DMSP, NOAA AVHRR). It is proposed to transmit the maps directly to the US embassy in Addis Ababa and the Ministry and to forward the satellite data to the field to support emergency measures. Between Friday 3 and Sunday 5 March 2000 a mixed Ethiopian-German team is dispatched to the fire region South of Addis Ababa and is joined by the South African team on 4 March.

On 6 March 2000 an International Fire Emergency Advisory Group is formed consisting of experts of Ethiopia, GFMC, South Africa and the US and set up an Incident Command System (ICS). The international community and the media are briefed on the situation in Addis Ababa.

For more details – see the narrative published in International Forest Fore News

Media reports:

Follow-up: Round Table on Integrated Forest Fire Management

Half a year later, the Ethiopian Round Table Conference on Integrated Forest Fire Management was held in Addis Ababa, 19-20 September 2000. The major objectives of the workshop were to:

  • provide all stakeholders with comprehensive information on the present status and problems about forest fires;
  • share experiences in forest fire management with· other developing countries;
  • identify and define components of an integrated forest fire management programme for Ethiopia;
  • provide an opportunity for potential international partners to express their interests and ideas with respect to a co-operation in the development and implementation of a forest fire management system in Ethiopia

The Round Table was supported by GFMC and GTZ. The proceedings include seven papers and a section that summarizes the findings of the three working groups and the plenary discussion at the end of the workshop:

  1. Vegetation types and forest management in Ethiopia.
  2. Role of vegetation fires in global processes in Africa and other continents
  3. Effects and use of fire in southern Africa savannah
  4. Experience in Namibia with community-based forest fire management
  5. Remote sensing of vegetation fires and its contribution to national fire information
  6. Overview of integrated forest management (IFFM) concepts, lessons learnt and opportunities for Ethiopian conditions.
  7. Results of a case study on survival strategies and ecological performance of plants in regularly burnt savannah woodlands and grasslands of western Ethiopia, Gambella National Regional State.

The final section presented the results of the group discussions, plenary session and recommendations. The group work addressed three major issues: fire ecology and fire impacts, identification of key stakeholders, and an integrated fire management programme for Ethiopia. This is followed by the Annexes with the welcoming address, the opening address, the program, and the list of participants. It also includes a paper on the application of remote sensing and GIS in managing forest fires.

Follow-up report published in International Forest Fore News (IFFN)

Towards an integrated national fire management system

The study “Towards an integrated national fire management system in Ethiopia: A review of experiences, gaps, patterns and MODIS datawas initiated to document forest fire management experiences in Ethiopia with emphasis on trends, responses and impacts in view of identifying gaps to be addressed and areas where support is needed to design an integrated, national forest fire management system. The review was prepared and published in 2023 under the Working Landscape programme of Tropenbos International, financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands:

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