Until recently the mandate of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) of the United Nations has been restricted to the “classical” SAR cases such as saving lives after earthquakes. Experience has shown, however, that secondary effects of natural and technogenic disasters, including large wildfires such as those which occurred during the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episode of 1997-98, require additional specialist advice in conjunction with SAR response and other humanitarian aid missions. The INSARAG family offers an appropriate structure. At the regional INSARAG Europe-Africa meeting in Germany (December 1999) a first proposal was elaborated to establish an INSARAG Fire Group consisting of three elements:
Hazardous Materials (Hazmat)
At a meeting at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in January 2000 it was agreed that the original mandate of INSARAG in addition to search and rescue would also cover wider aspects of disaster/emergency response. This could include a variety of natural and human-made disasters, including wildland fires.
At the upcoming Baltic Exercise on Fire Information and Resources Exchange (BALTEX FIRE 2000) in Finland (June 2000) the meeting of the FAO/ECE/ILO Fire Team of Specialists on Forest Fire and the GFMC Advisory Board will further elaborate on the formation of the INSARAG Wildland Fire Group. It is expected that the INSARAG Europe-Africa Region will be the first to establish the fire component by November 2000; other INSARAG regions are expected to follow and jointly form a network of regional INSARAG Fire Nodes.
During its formation phase the future INSARAG Wildland Fire Subgroup already became operational at the occasion of the forest fire emergency in Ethiopia between February and April 2000. The coordination of a multinational fire fighting task force through the GFMC involved participation of Germany, South Africa, and the United States.
A report – a narrative of the events – is given in the first contribution of this IFFN issue. It reveals that this fire fighting campaign was the very first and successful multinational intervention in a tropical developing country in history. From the beginning of the situation the GFMC, in close collaboration with the Government of Ethiopia and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), has assessed, monitored and supported the campaign in the multinational task force and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) successfully cooperated with the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Armed Forces of Ethiopia, and the numerous villagers and enthusiastic students which provided voluntary help. This smoothly working cooperation is acknowledged here.
The Ethiopia case shows that the international expertise and willingness to manage extreme fire situations under the socio-economic and environmental conditions of a “foreign” country is available. In this context I would like to announce that in the next issue of IFFN a report will be given on the Fire Working Group of the Global Observation of the Forest Cover (GOFC-Fire) initiative of the Committee of Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) which was established in November 1999. The activities of GOFC-Fire are devoted to develop and promote remote sensing technologies for efficient fire management application and policy support.