Forest Fires in Ethiopia: 2 March 2000

Forest Fires in Ethiopia

2 March 2000

Two weeks ago the federal Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has received reports about two larger forest fires in Oromiya Regional State, namely in Borana and Bale administrative zones. Both fires started in transition zones between woodland and forest areas and have since encroached on the forest. Due to the extended dry season a lot of combustible materials (dry grasses and undergrowth) have accumulated. The situation will remain very serious until the onset of the Belg rains.

Borana Administrative Zone

The fire started around Shakiso, about 20 km south of Kibre Mengist. Reportedly, as yet more than 20,000 ha of forestland have burnt. Fires are reported from 22 different locations, including Anferara-Warada and Bore State Forests. Agricultural Offices 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, few water bowsers and trucks. The MoA and the Regional Agricultural Bureau have dispatched simple hand tools like spades, fire beater and pangas in order to improve the effectiveness of fire fighting activities.

Bale Administrative Zone

In Bale area there are fires reported from three of the four Forest Priority Areas (Haranna-Kokosa, Mena-Angetu and Goro-Bele Forests). Including the fourth forest area (Adaba-Dodola), these comprise a total of 580,000 ha of forestland. Even though it is difficult to come up with accurate estimates based on the ground surveys that were performed, the total burnt area is believed to be more than 10,000 ha. Altogether several different fire locations (>100) were spotted. The forests are in most parts disturbed or even heavily disturbed which has resulted in the increased production of combustible biomass, i.e. grasses and herbs. Therefore, a further spread of the fires is feared. A major problem is the difficult accessibility of the forest areas. The terrain is rugged and dissected by small river courses. Fire fighters have to walk several hours to reach the fire fronts and are already exhausted by the time they arrive. There is also a shortage of fire fighting hand tools, but additional fire beaters are on the way.

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. Because of its great floristic and faunistic diversity, UNESCO has designated the Bale Mountain Area as one of its 200 worldwide Bio Regions, the only one located in Ethiopia. 600 ha of the afro-alpine vegetation in the Park have been burnt but adjoining communities, environmental clubs and school students successfully extinguished the fire. According to one report, the fire is already as close as 80 km to Dinsho, the NP headquarters.

The government of Ethiopia yesterday called for a meeting with the embassies and the UN (UNDP, FAO) and the Food and Early Warning System Project of US-AID, to discuss possible fire fighting support from foreign sources. As of today the GTZ Forestry adviser, supported by the GFMC, has requested more detailed satellite reconnaissance from the USA (NOAA NESDIS). A helicopter survey flight will take place later today. Requests for fire fighting tools will be submitted to the embassies after completion of the reconnaissance flights.

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Fig.1. DMSP scene of Ethiopia of 29 February 2000. The red dots show active fires. Land signature: brown; water: blue; clouds: grey; stable lights (cities): cyan. Explanation: DMSP (Defense Meterologigal Satellite Program) of the USA provides nighttime light information.

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