Namibia Round Table on Fire, Windhoek, 10-11 November 1999

Namibia Round Table on Fire
Windhoek, 10-11 November 1999

(IFFN No. 25, July 2001)

  1. Preparation of the Round Table

In early 1998 the Namibia-Finland Forestry Programme was supported by the Fire Ecology Research Group which in the same year established the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC). One of the main aims of the GFMC is to facilitate countries, the UN system and other international organizations, including NGOs, in developing fire science programmes, technology transfer to fire management and policy development (see: <>). In consultation with the Research Group / GFMC is was proposed to develop a “National Fire Policy and Guidelines on Fire Management in Namibia (Goldammer 1998). The following paragraphs are extracted from the 1998 report and updated where necessary.

2.1 Fire in Namibia: History, Use and Problems

In the evolutionary history natural fires caused by lightning have significantly contributed to shape Namibia’s savanna and forest ecosystems. In addition, fire influence through traditional burning practices over millennia has strongly favoured and selected plant communities that are considered to be sustainable and long-term stable fire ecosystems if not affected by additional disturbances.

However, in the recent past fire regimes are undergoing dramatic changes. This is the consequence of decline in nomadic life and the overall increasing human population pressure on these areas where fire is being used extensively as a land utilization tool, e.g., for conversion of forested/wooded lands into agricultural lands; for maintaining grazing lands; and for facilitating the utilization of non-wood forest products, e.g. honey collection and hunting. Formerly sustainable time-space-fire relationships are being altered in the wake of changing land-use practices. Forest ecosystem and site degradation becomes most visible where excessive disturbances by logging have changed the equilibrium between vegetation composition (tree species, occupation of sites by invading grasses), fuel characteristics (available flammable material), and fire behaviour. One of the main reasons of degradation is the increase of wind and water erosion of the Kalahari sand soils. As a consequence, ecological damages and loss of biodiversity become more and more visible. High economic losses are caused by fire damaging valuable timber and non-timber resources, natural regeneration, and planted forests. Indiscriminate burning in Namibia’s forests and grazing lands has also led to increasing losses in pastoral resources and losses of domestic livestock. Fires in the interface of wildlands and residential areas often cause the loss of human lives, property, and other values at risk, e.g., food stores, power and communication lines, other infrastructures, and livelihoods.

In addition, large-scale burning of vegetation exerts impacts on the regional and global atmosphere. Emissions from wildland fires in Namibia are important sources of radiatively active trace gases and aerosols. Those fires which are associated with the degradation of vegetative cover consequently lead to the reduction of the carbon sequestration potential. Thus, they contribute directly to the anthropogenic greenhouse effect.

Altogether, the current levels of wildfire occurrence and severity are seen as incompatible with the nation’s social goals and resource management objectives.

This proposal to develop Guidelines on Fire Management in Namibia is aimed to provide the basis for an in-depth preparation of a set of guidelines for the various administrative settings and ecosystems concerned. Major emphasis in this proposal is on fire prevention, particularly on a community-based approach.

2.2 Crosscutting / Intersectoral and International Issues

This report seeks cross-references to various national regulations and strategic plans. The proposal is also considering regional plans for the Southern African region and international binding and non-binding conventions.

2.2.1 The Namibia Forestry Strategic Plan

The Namibia Forestry Strategic Plan (Directorate of Forestry 1996) provides the framework for fire policy and management planning. The Strategic Plan is based on ecological, environmental, cultural, and socio-economic considerations. The Plan considers “Production, Protection and Participation” as the three imperatives of forest policy.

In this context, the plan underscores the need of reducing the negative effects of fires by stating in Section 3.2.1 that

“The occurrence and severity of uncontrolled and accidental forest fires has to be reduced, and the policy of burning off patches of woodlands to improve hunting grounds, should be changed to one using fire only as a controlled tool under specific circumstances”.

Furthermore it is stated in Section 3.2.4 that

“Participation of local communities and the private sector is essential for the sustainable use of the forest resources. The active involvement of local communities in management and conservation of forest resources is desirable for the purposes of environmental protection and for significant increases in rural incomes and employment levels.”

Besides the statement, that “Policy formulation must precede the formulation of forest legislation” (Section 3.3.1) it is also underscored that “there is no reason why different regions in Namibia should not adopt different policies” – an important statement which will open the options for the development of fire policies which are in accordance with the distinctly different impacts of fire (or fire regimes) in the various vegetation types of the country.

Under the expected contribution of the programmes towards the achievement of sectoral and national objectives (Section 5) the environmental forestry programme underscores that

“Strategic forest protection of biodiversity and sequestering of carbon (to restrict potential climate change) will make possible for Namibia to meet the requirements of the International Conventions on Biodiversity and Climate Change.”

The Namibia Climate Change Report must be seen in this context (see para 2.4).

2.2.2 Forest Act, Forest Ordinance, and Regulations under the Forest Act

The Forest Act No.72 of 1968 provides some brief procedural regulations on clearing of fire belts and rules of fire control. The Preservation of Trees and Forest Ordinance, assented to 8 July 1952[1], regulates the use of fire in construction of fire belts and assistance in fire suppression. The new Forest Act of Namibia (which is in preparation) will provide rules on fire management. The Final Draft of the Regulations under the new Forest Act of Namibia shall provide several regulations concerning fire, namely on access and connecting roads in forest reserves and on the composition, functions and procedures of fire management committees.

2.2.3 Other Regulations of the Ministry for Agriculture, Water and Rural Development, Ministry for Environment and Tourism, and the Department of Women’s Affairs

At the time of writing the 1998 report no statements could be found regarding fire policies, rules or regulations under the responsibility of the Ministry for Agriculture, Water and Rural Development. The Ministry of Local Governments and Housing in a policy statement (not formally decided by the Cabinet) has taken over the responsibility for rural fire control.

The Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry for Environment and Tourism, has clearly indicated that it will support future intersectoral policies in fire management.

The Office of the President, Department of Women’s Affairs has finalized the National Gender Policy in 1998. In Section “Gender and the Management of the Environment” emphasis has been given on the role of women in protecting the environment. Although fire management has not yet bee mentioned explicitly in that section it is expected that more detailed activity programmes will include a fire component.

2.2.4 UN Convention on Climate Change

Namibia in 1995 has ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Consequently, Namibia submitted a report detailing its contributions and its vulnerability to climate change to the Secretariat of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The inventory of contributions to climate change includes emissions from the agricultural sector, notably those from land-use changes and vegetation fires. Thus, from the point of view of this binding international convention, Namibia is required to provide quantitative assessments of free-burning vegetation fires.

The mitigation strategies are an important part of the Climate Change Report. A national fire management policy and a derived fire management strategy, as proposed by this report, consequently will have an important focus on the reduction of those fires which are detrimental not only from the point of view of protection of ecosystems, biodiversity, and productivity, but also in regard to contributing to regional and global changes of atmosphere and climate.

2.2.5 The UN International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR)

The development of a national fire policy and guidelines on fire management are in accordance with the UN Resolution 44/236 in which the 1990’s were designated as the International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The basic idea behind this proclamation of the Decade was and still remains to be the unacceptable and rising levels of losses which disasters continue to incur on the one hand, and the existence, on the other hand, of a wealth of scientific and engineering know-how which could be effectively used to reduce losses resulting from disasters. The general objective of the Decade (which ends in 1999) was:

to reduce through concerted international actions, especially in developing countries, loss of life, property damage and economic disruption caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes, windstorms, tsunamis, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, wildfires and other calamities of natural origin such as grasshopper and locust infestations.

The following four goals represent the desired destinations which Decade efforts should lead to:

  1.  improve the capacity of each country to mitigate the effects of natural disasters expeditiously and effectively, paying special attention to assisting developing countries in the assessment of disaster damage potential and in the establishment of early warning systems and disaster-resistant structures when and where needed;
  2. devise appropriate guidelines and strategies for applying existing scientific and technical knowledge, taking into account the cultural and economic diversity among nations;
  3. foster scientific and engineering endeavours aimed at closing critical gaps in knowledge in order to reduce loss of life and property;
  4. develop measures for the assessment, prediction, prevention and mitigation of natural disasters through programmes of technical assistance and technology transfer, demonstration projects, and education and training, tailored to specific disasters and locations, and to evaluate the effectiveness of those programmes.

Based on the above broadly defined goals, it was found necessary to focus on a number of specific areas of activities which would mark progress to be achieved at the end of the Decade period.

By the year 2000, all countries, as part of their plan to achieve sustainable development, should have in place:

  1.  comprehensive national assessments of risks from natural hazards, with these assessments taken into account in development plans;
  2. mitigation plans at national and/or local levels, involving long-term prevention and preparedness and community awareness, and
  3. ready access to global, regional, national and local warning systems and broad dissemination of warnings.

Namibia as a signatory country of the IDNDR has placed its National Committee of Namibia under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister (Emergency Unit). In the information provided by Namibia’s national report to the IDNDR it was clearly stated that the country considered wildfires to be a prevailing hazard.[2]

The development of a national fire policy, fire management guidelines and management capabilities in Namibia will assist the government of Namibia to meet the targets set by the IDNDR. As the Decade will be terminated by end of December 1999, successor arrangements have to be defined at national levels

2.2.6 The Rome Declaration on Forestry and the FAO Forest Resources Assessment 2000

The FAO convened the Ministerial Meeting on Forestry on “Sustainability Issues in Forestry, the National and International Challenges”, Rome, 8-9 March 1999. On 9 March 1999 the Forest Ministers released the “Rome Declaration on Forestry”. The statements regarding forest fires are based on the resumée “Global Action to Address Forest Fires” which was a summary of the recommendations of the Expert Meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires (FAO, Rome, October 1998). The Ministerial Meeting, among other, welcomed the recommendations the Fourteenth Session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO) (Rome, 2 March 1999) and encouraged their endorsement by the FAO Council with a view to facilitating their early implementation.

In the Rome Declaration on Forestry of 9 March 1999 the ministers responsible for forests or their representatives, among other:

  • noted that the causes of forest fires are many and complex and recognizing the need to harness efforts to prevent forest fires as well as to address the multiple causes and consequences of fires around the globe,
  • welcomed the meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires hosted by FAO in October 1998 and encourage FAO to take action to implement the recommendations directed to it,
  • called on FAO and other international organizations, donor agencies and interested countries to work together to address the underlying causes of forest fires, to improve the coordination of their efforts to prevent and combat forest fires and to rehabilitate affected areas with a view to providing assistance requested by governments,

Beginning with the Round Table on Fire Namibia intends to implement the recommendations of the Rome Declaration.

It must also be mentioned that Namibia must provide the fire statistical information to the FAO as required by the Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000). In the frame of the FRA 2000 the FAO collects data on the numbers of fires and area burned for the period 1990‑99 for all wildfires or any fire occurring on forest and other wooded land. Like many countries Namibia must urgently build up technical and human resource capabilities to conduct fire inventories on a regular base.

2.2.7 Regional Cooperation within the Southern African Development Community (SADC)

All member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have one unifying problem, among other, the problems of changing fire regimes associated with population growth, land-use changes, and land degradation. It is consequent that SADC came up with proposals on a regional Southern African wildfire management project. In 1992, during discussions between representatives of the Forestry Sector Technical Co‑ordination Unit (FSTCU) of SADC and USDA Forest Service, the possibility of a SADC‑wide regional forest fire management system was raised. This led to terms of reference in 1994 for an investigation or review of the situation in each country, a report on the findings and recommendations that were discussed at a meeting in Lusaka in November 1995, attended by representatives of 11 of the then 12 SADC countries and by the project team, consisting of experts from the United States and Canada. The review was sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). A follow-up report was produced in February 1996. This report contains recommendations leading to project proposals which are presented in some detail. A list of recommendations contained in the follow‑up report was provided by Kromhout (1999) and is given below.

SADC‑Wide Recommendations

Chapter 3 of the SADC Regional Forest Fire Management System Review report details the following recommendations:

  1.  All resource management agencies involved with a fire responsibility need to adopt a proactive attitude to fire management. As a first step, a position should be dedicated to fire management at the national level and preferably at the regional and project levels as well. The establishment of these positions will provide accountability for the fire management program.
    Status: accepted in principle by member states attending a workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, 21-23 November 1995.
  2. SADC members should commit to building cooperative fire management arrangements with each other in order to accomplish their fire management objectives, as opposed to “going it alone”. These arrangements should include sharing of resources, operational understandings on common border zones, joint participation in training initiatives, research and technology, and information exchange.
    Status: accepted in principle by member states attending the workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, November 1995, and further developed in Project Proposal No.1.
  3. FSTCU should arrange for a team to visit Angola to gather information regarding their fire management situation which could be included in an updated version of this report.
    Status: completed with FSTCU visit to Angola in August of 1995 and subsequent publication of “Addendum to the SADC Regional Forest Fire Management Systems Review Project” in November 1995.
  4. FSTCU should convene a meeting of SADC country forestry, national park and wildlife representatives to review this report and to chart a course for implementation of the Project Proposals.
    Status: completed through workshop held in Lusaka, Zambia, 21-23 November 1995, attended by 11 of the 12 SADC member states.
  5. Following the meeting mentioned in above (No.4), SADC should consider the need to develop a strategic action plan for implementing a fire management program in Southern Africa.
    Status: to be addressed; accepted in principle at Lusaka workshop.
  6. In the absence of comprehensive data on fire occurrence and extent at the national level in most countries, a regional program should be developed to monitor and report vegetation loss to fire.
    Status: accepted in principle at Lusaka workshop and further developed in Project

Proposal No.1.

SADC Regional Wildfire Management Project Proposals

Incorporating the direction and prioritization provided by the delegates to the Lusaka workshop, four Project Proposals, each with several Modules, have been developed:

Regional Wildfire Management Coordination


  • Wildfire Management Coordinating Group
  • Wildfire Management Specialist
  • Wildfire Monitoring and Assessment Information System
  • Equipment Development and Acquisition
  •  International Wildfire Agreements
  • Wildfire Weather Data Network

Wildfire Personnel Training


  • Basic Wildfire Suppression Training
  •  Forestry College Improvements
  • Mid-Career Internships

Wildfire Prevention and Public Education


  • Wildfire Prevention Information Materials
  • Extension Training ‑ Wildfire Management

Operational Wildfire Research and Technology Transfer


  •  Prescribed Burning ‑ Miombo Woodlands
  • Operational Fire Management Research ‑ Zambezi Teak Woodlands
  • Wildfire Management Demonstration Centres

After the proposal to USAID to fund the implementation of the wildfire management proposals was declined. FSTCU is still seeking assistance in implementing the projects that have been identified. Although donors dislike funding that cannot be taken over by the budgets of recipients, to avoid dependency, some of the projects are not of a kind to cause dependency when funded by donors.

2.2.8 Recommendations by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) through the “Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests”

Between 1993 and 1997 the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) developed “Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests” (ITTO 1997). These fire management guidelines are designed to provide a base for policy makers and managers at various levels to develop programs and projects in which the specific national, socio-economic, and natural problems related to fire in tropical natural and planted forests will be addressed. The scope of the guidelines is to assist the ITTO member countries (producer and consumer countries) to develop programs for reducing damage caused by fire; and to help tropical forest managers and rural residents to safely use and take advantage of the beneficial effects of fire in land-use systems. The guidelines recognize that many forest fires originate in the agricultural and pastoral systems; and in degraded vegetation which is outside of forests. Therefore, fire management on former and degraded forest lands may help to re-establish productive forests and to safeguard the success of reforestation programs.

At present, Indonesia is the first country in which the general ITTO guidelines are “fine-tuned” to the national level. However, the ITTO guidelines are not exclusively developed for the ITTO Member Countries or the tropical countries sensu strictu.[3] The guidelines address principles which are also valid outside the ITTO region, especially in the less developed world of the subtropical and temperate zones. Namibia could certainly take advantage of ITTO’s precursor work when formulating a national fire policy and fire management strategy.

2.3 Conclusions and Recommendations

It is clear that the various fire regimes and fire effects in forestry, wildlife conservancy and land-use of Namibia will require a set of measures in fire management. The following conclusions and recommendations require a coordinated national approach leading to a clear fire policy and its implementation through a series of measures within the timeframe of 1998-2001.

Creation of an Inter-Agency Round Table on Fire Management and Development of a National Fire Policy and Fire Management Guidelines

The various agencies and land owners to be involved in the implementation of a national fire management program need to agree on clearly defined responsibilities, joint strategies and sharing of resources. An inter-agency round table should be created as soon as possible. This could be initiated in a workshop, tentatively entitled “Development of a National Fire Policy and Guidelines on Fire Management in Namibia”. Besides the agencies concerned, this workshop should involve NGOs, women’s groups, the donor community, international programmes and representatives of fire science and related fields.

The proposed objectives of the Workshop are:

  1. to provide all parties represented in the workshop with comprehensive information on the present status and problems in the field of vegetation fires and fire management in Namibia;
  2. to introduce a framework which can assist to guide and coordinate national responsibilities and international assistance;
  3. to provide an opportunity for potential international partners to express their interests and ideas with respect to a cooperation in the development of a functioning Long-Term Integrated Forest Fire Management System in Namibia and a basic fire science program;
  4.  to define follow-up procedures of this international workshop.

Desirable results and recommendations of the workshop:

  1. The development of a Long-Term Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) System for Namibia is recognized as a field of high priority in order to protect natural, socio-economic and human resources from the detrimental effects of fires.
  2. A basic and most critical task will be to provide the necessary legal and organizational base within the existing structures (Government administration, private sector) in order to strengthen or to create (where not yet available) the fire management capabilities.
  3. International contributions are essential (a) to secure the introduction of fire management methods adapted to the requirements of local political, social, and ecological conditions in Namibia; (b) to provide the funding necessary to build up expertise and infrastructures that will secure the most time-efficient build-up of fire management capabilities in the most critical areas, and (c) to ensure the continuity of research inputs covering the
  4. Both the national (Namibian) and international activities require a high degree of coordination because of the multi-sectoral approach and the multitude of international partners being involved.
  5.  In order to ensure the efficient realization of the required activities a National Fire Management Coordinating Committee needs to be established as a follow-up step.

Proposed terms of reference of a National Fire Management Coordinating Committee:

  1.  to establish a national platform for the development of a Long-Term Integrated Fire Management System;
  2. to ensure an intersectoral approach in which all Government authorities, other organizations and the private sector will participate;
  3.  to coordinate international support to the establishment of the fire management system in order to avoid duplications of activities and investments and to optimize the efficiency of contributions; international partners shall be consulted for coordinating activities; and
  4.  if required, to develop the legal and organizational structure of a permanent body, e.g. a National Fire Management Council, which will ensure the efficiency and future continuity of this national program.
  5. Meeting Report

The Namibia Round Table on Fire was convened in Windhoek, 10-11 November 1999. A broad range of government agencies and non-government organizations of Namibia, governments of neighbouring SADC countries and the international forestry and fire science community was represented by ca. 50 participants. In the first part of the Round Table the presentations of representatives from Namibian, SADC and the international community highlighted the background of fir history, the utilization of fire in land-use systems, the current magnitude of fire occurrence as depicted by spaceborne observations, the sustainable role of fire in certain savanna wildlands and grazing ecosystems, the detrimental role of wildfires in fire-susceptible forests of Namibia and its neighbours countries, and the impact of vegetation fire emissions on the local, regional, and global atmosphere.

After plenary discussion of basic aspects of a national fire policy two breakout working groups were formed in the second part of the Round Table. The groups

addressed the most urgent areas of action and co-ordination by government agencies and stakeholders. The results are summarized in the following.


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