PROJECT PLANNING WORKSHOP ON SCIENTIFIC DIMENSIONS OF FOREST FIRES
27-29 March 2000, Chennai, India
A multidisciplinary international project on simulation and modelling studies of forest fires and transboundary haze in the Asian region.
Organised by Committee on Science and Technology in Developing Countries of the International Council for Science (COSTED-ICSU)
Co-sponsored by UNESCO Regional Office for South and Central Asia Department of Science and Technology, Government of India Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India
Fire has long been revered as a sustainer of life and ecosystems. It can also be a force for destruction and as such has been a much feared element of Nature. Over the years, it has been observed that forest fires do play an important role in ecosystem regeneration. However, when the forest fires are uncontrolled, frequent or spread over vast areas, they have been threatening the ecosystem and the security of the habitats in and around the forests. In the South and South East Asian region forest fires have been ravaging, causing very high economic loss, destruction of biodiversity and transboundary pollution. Incidents of fires in Indian forests are increasingly threatening the valuable biodiversity and genetic resources.
Modern forest fire management is a multidimensional, multi level science built on a foundation that both defines the level of fire and integrates its management into sustainable forests policy and planning. It is, as well, the consideration and enhancement of public safety, air quality, water quality, land, wildlife and habitat.
2. RECORDED ADVERSE IMPACT OF FOREST FIRES
The incidents of forest fires have been escalating significantly in recent decades. One estimate puts the area of forests subjected to fires as being one billion hectares each year around the globe.
2.1 General Impact
Impacts of forest fires would naturally vary from place to place depending on its size, intensity, longevity and frequency of incidents.
Forest fires pose serious threat to biodiversity.
From the environment view point, forest fires are a key contributor to the CO2 levels affecting global temperatures and eventual climate change. In turn, climate changes might induce more forest fires.
There is a general degradation of soil, and overall ecosystem degradation.
Fires in wet tropics, although relatively less frequent, are a major element in the process of deforestation.
2.2 Economic Impact
In 1983, in Australia, the disaster that came to be known as Ash Wednesday claimed 77 lives, injured 3570 people, destroyed 2500 homes and burned over 340,000 hectares of urban, forested and pastoral lands in a single day.
In 1987, Northern Chinas 1.3 million hectares burned along with significant loss of life and communities; and even larger losses were recorded in neighbouring Russia.
In 1988, in North America 500,000 hectares were consumed in Yellowstone National Park in the USA and Mexico experienced fire losses exceeding 120,000 hectares.
Mongolia captured the world headlines in 1995 losing 80 square km of forest and pasture land, along with 6,000 cattle and 17 people to wildfires. In many countries forest fires has reached crisis situation.
Southeast Asia too has experienced extraordinary losses
In Sabah in the period 1983-1985 more than 1 million hectares of forests were burnt due to the severe drought experienced in the region.
During the same period the biggest fire occurred in East Kalimantan destroying 2.7 million hectares of tropical rain forest in the middle Mahakam area. Losses were estimated to be $8.3 billion US.
In 1991, 72,000 hectares were burnt in Indonesia and in 1994 large wildfires in ASEAN contributed to the haze problems experienced in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It is estimated that timber losses alone in ASEAN region amounted to $0.5 – $1.0 billion US.
Some statistics regarding the amount of forest fires are destroying annually:
Indonesia – 481,000 ha ; Malaysia – 997,000 ha ;
Philippines – 307,000 ha ; Thailand – 500,000 ha
Situation in India: In the past fires occurred sporadically, but in recent times there are incidents of serious concern, caused by several factors-particularly increased human activities, commercial propositions, droughts and pollution factors
Though Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei are known to have suffered from forest fire, detailed data are not available.
The statistics given above are estimated losses of the first order, but losses due to environmental degradation and morbidity caused by smoke and polluted air are significant yet they have not been monetized. The losses due to closure of international airports of commercial significance like Singapore, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur could be very substantial indeed.
3. RATIONALE AND MANDATE FOR THIS INITIATIVE
During 23-25 November 1998 in Chennai, COSTED organized, in co-operation with the Federation of Asian Scientific Academies and Societies (FASAS*), and with funding support from UNESCO, New Delhi and the International Division of the Department of Science and Technology (Government of India) a symposium on “Identification of S&T Priorities for Asian Regional Co-operation”. Heads and senior functionaries of FASAS* bodies who attended the Symposium agreed unanimously that COSTED should establish an initiative to identify the S&T issues and knowledge gaps on forest fires and stimulate necessary studies which will help in enhancing the ability of the countries to anticipate forest fires and strengthen mitigatory measures.
A survey of other initiatives on forest fires world wide indicate, that there has been no systematic studies on modelling and simulation in the Asian region. There are however many useful studies on monitoring and estimating the impact of Forest Fires in Asia. These studies could form very useful inputs to the proposed project.
Following the South-East Asian forest fires in 1997, four major regional workshops have been held in 1998 (including the COSTED-FASAS workshop) all of which reiterated the urgency and importance of a systematic study for mitigating the adverse impacts of Forest Fires.
This project received mandate from COSTEDs Executive Committee as well as its plenary of members.
FASAS Member countries Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
4. CONTENT OF THE PLANNING WORKSHOP
The Project Planning Workshop will bring together scientists of the Asian region and resource persons from other countries to discuss the subject, identify the knowledge gaps and research areas and develop a time-bound project networking the institutions in the region and beyond. The workshop will take into account all the relevant initiatives, ongoing and past, focussing on an exercise to prepare a blue print for a 2-year project proposal to be submitted to potential funding agencies.
This Planning Workshop would among other things identify the details of the following:
Initiating computer-aided modelling and simulation exercises on forest fires and transboundary haze which would help in devising mitigation strategies;
Institutional networking and responsibilities
Establishing a data-base on forest fires for the South East and South Asian regions;
Steps for developing Expert systems and their validation.
Training needs and research attachments
5. COUNTRIES AND INSTITUTIONS TO BE INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT
Expert scientists will be drawn from, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Resource persons will be identified from Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Russia and the United States of America.
Institutions and research groups that are directly active in Forest Fires and their mathematical modelling will be involved. In India, for example, the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Forest Research Institute and the CSIR Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Simulation will be some of the institutions to be invited to participate. Other potential participating institutions are Fire Ecology Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry / The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), BIOTROP GCTE, Bogor, Indonesia, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, Arizona State University, to name a few.
6. DELIVERABLES FROM THE PLANNING WORKSHOP
A blue print for a project proposal with details on content, time frame, participating institutions and budget.
Elucidation of data, information and knowledge gaps that may be addressed through South-South-Cooperation.
A partnership letter of intent and co-operation for the establishment of a network of institutions in the Asian region for collaborative studies.
Participation is by invitation, based on nominations received from national and regional institutions and screening of registration applications. There is no registration fee for the workshop.
The workshop will be held at the
COSTED International Secretariat 24 Gandhi Mandapam Road Chennai 600 025 INDIA
The organisers will make block bookings in a suitable hotel. Participants are requested to inform their accommodation needs well in advance, in the application for registration.
10. FINANCIAL SUPPORT
All registered participants will be provided local hospitality. A limited number of travel grants will also be provided to participants.
February, in Chennai is pleasant. The maximum and minimum temperature are 28oC to 23oC.
Applicants are requested to submit the duly filled in registration form on or before 17 January 2000.
Dr.G. THYAGARAJAN or Dr.VEENA RAVICHANDRAN Scientific Secretary, Senior Scientific Officer Committee on Science and Technology in Developing Countries (COSTED) International Council for Science 24 Gandhi Mandapam Road Chennai 600 025 INDIA