Forest Fires in Ethiopia: 23 February 2000

Forest Fires in Ethiopia

23 February 2000

The federal Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has recently received reports about two larger forest fires in Oromiya Regional State. Both fires started in transition zones between woodland and forest areas and have since encroached on the forest. Since it is the end of the dry season in many parts of the country grasses and herbs are easily combustible.

One of the affected areas is located in the Borana Administrative Zone, near Shakiso town. Reportedly, out of a total forested area of 80,000 ha, about 10,000 ha have been burnt. There are three major fires in different locations, which complicates fire fighting efforts. Forestry experts of all administrative levels and the local administration have established a task force and managed to mobilise the local population for fire fighting activities. A mining company that is operating in the area has joined forces and provided some heavy equipment like bulldozers and trucks. According to latest reports the fire is not spreading presently but is far from being extinguished. The MoA and the Regional Agricultural Bureau are in the process of organising simple hand tools like spades, hoes and pangas in order to improve the effectiveness of fire fighting activities.

The other affected location is the Bale Massive in the Bale Administrative Zone. The fire has encroached on one of the state forests (so-called National Forest Priority Area) and reportedly 2500 ha have been burnt. There are four different FPAs located in this area, totalling some 580,000 ha of forested land. The forests are in most parts disturbed or even heavily disturbed which has resulted in the increased production of combustible biomass, ie. grasses and herbs. The state forests engulf the Bale National Park from three directions. The Bale NP is famous for being inhabited by endemic species such as the Ethiopian Wolf and the Mountain Nyala. According to one report, the fire is already as close as 80 km to Dinsho, the NP headquarters. As in the other area, there are different smaller fires constituting the fire threat. Apparently, there is not much fire expansion during the daytime. It mostly occurs during the night when the wind picks up. The situation needs further assessment but it is hoped that the fire can be controlled with local resources.

While the lowland areas of the country are burnt regularly and in many parts even annually, forest fires of this extent have not been reported since 1984, when the country was struck by a major drought. There is a fear that forest fires might occur more frequently in future due to climatic change. It became apparent that there is a lack of specialist know-how in fire fighting and fire management in the country and that there are insufficient capacities for fighting forest fires of this magnitude in all aspects. Therefore, there is a plan to embark on a program for building fire fighting capacities amongst the forest administration. The services of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) will be instrumental in this regard.

From the GFMC-gtz correspondent

Guenther Haase
Advisory Assistance to the Forest Administration
PN 95.2105.5-001.00 gtz German Technical Cooperation
P.O.Box 12631
Addis Ababa

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