Beginning with the October 1998 issue of International Forest Fire News (IFFN) the UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists and the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), both responsible for the preparation and editing of IFFN, have been faced with two entirely different ways of transporting information to the international readership. IFFN is produced bi-annually by the leader of the UN Fire Team which works under a UN-ECE agreement on a honourary base, a voluntary contribution to the Joint FAO/ECE/ILO Committee on Forest Technology, Management and Training. The US Bureau of Land Management is a financial sponsor of the IFFN.
The technical production of IFFN, now in its 12th year, is rather simple. After producing a home-made camera-ready copy on a PC we mail the materials to Geneva where it is put patiently in the queue of materials to be processed in the printing workshop of the United Nations. It happens regularly that, for instance, a July issue is delivered to Geneva in August or September, printed in October or November, and finally reaches the readers by December. This procedure shows that technically we cannot compete with commercial or publicly funded journals or newsletters.
However, personally I believe in both, the value of printed media even if they are “slow”. I know that out of the more than one thousand subscribers of IFFN many institutions and individuals maintain a collection of this journal. IFFN becomes much more frequently cited in the international literature, referring to statistical data, country reports, special analyses and using international contacts. IFFN still is the only fire news service which simultaneously offers information for three important groups, the wildland fire science community, fire managers, and policy makers.
To meet the growing demands of quick dissemination of information we can now serve the readers much faster by the Internet version of IFFN. A handful days after the camera-ready manuscript is mailed to Geneva the whole issue can be read on the homepage of the GFMC. The Internet version of IFFN is even much more illustrative and attractive by displaying colour and high-resolution graphs, photos, maps or imageries. Unfortunately we cannot afford this in the printed version. The Internet version of IFFN is can be read in the vicinity of near-real time reports on fires from all over the world, provided by the daily global fire situation update on the GFMC website. These reports are compiled by a systematic evaluation of a large number of satellite imageries, national or regional fire reports, weather reports and weather forecasts. New products are daily global, regional and national fire weather predictions for the current and next day, the next week and the next month. The GFMC also displays near-real time satellite-observed and modeled fire emissions such as aerosols or carbon monoxide. Readers systematically checking the GFMC website will find a comprehensive archive of past daily update reports, including a large number of satellite imageries, in the archive which has been built up beginning with the daily operations.
The GFMC and the UN Fire Team are now entering a critical phase. Increasing amounts of daily interpreted fire information from a large number of sources from all over the world requires more professional staff. There is no way to continue this work on a honourary base. Starting in 1998 the German Foreign Office provided kick-off funds for the GFMC as a contribution to the UN International Decade for Natural Hazard Reduction (IDNDR). The Decade ends by December 1999 as the funding does – and the follow-up arrangements are not yet fully established.
Recognizing the importance of providing a sustainable base for GFMC operations we have been supported morally and technically by several UN agencies and programmes. A new alliance is being developed currently with the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Bank and the European Council. The IUCN is a new co-sponsor of the GFMC and the IFFN. Through the IUCN involvement we envisage to build an efficient coalition, especially with the NGO community and governments which are members of the IUCN.
I hope that the next issue of IFFN will be delivered to the readers more timely. And hopefully with good news on secured funding of GFMC operations.