News from the UN: Report on the FAO/ITTO International Expert Meeting on Forest Fire Management (IFFN No. 24 – April 2001, 78-98)

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Report on the
FAO/ITTO International Expert Meeting on Forest Fire Management1
Rome, Italy, 7-9 March 2001

(IFFN No. 24 – April 2001, p. 78-98)

  1. Introduction
  2. Opening of the Meeting
  3. Election of Chair and Vice-Chairs
  4. Adoption of Agenda
  5. Conclusion and Recommendations

Annex 1 (Group Photograph)
Annex 2 (List of Participants)
Annex 3 (Report of Working Group 1)
Annex 4 (Report of Working Group 2)
Annex 5 (Some Existing Agreements for Mutual Assistance and Emergency Response)
Annex 6 (Provisional Legal and Operational Checklists for Developing Forest Fire Emergency Agreements)
Annex 7 (Sample of Fire Seasons on Different Continents)
Annex 8 (Provisional action plan and schedule for implementation of recommendations)
Appendix 1 (List of Acronyms)

Final Remarks by the Editor


  1. The International Expert Meeting on Forest Fire Management, organised by FAO in cooperation with the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), was held at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 7 to 9 March 2001.

  2. The meeting was held in follow-up to the FAO meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires, held in Rome in October 1998, which identified the need for support to the development of regional and bilateral Agreements for collaboration in forest fire management, including identification of technical and financial inputs; improved sharing of information and knowledge, and support to strengthened technical cooperation among developing countries i.a. through networking and twinning; and identification of the roles which FAO and other international organisations could play in this regard, including technical assistance, institutional support and capacity-building.

  3. Organization of an international expert meeting on forest fires was, further, recommended in the consultancy report, “Proposals for Strengthening FAO’s Role Regarding Forest Fire Management” (FAO 2000)2.

  4. The specific objectives of the meeting were to:

  1. Examine the need and capacity of concerned member countries in predicting, preventing, managing and fighting forest fires;
  2. Identify countries that have such capacity, and the period of the year when they could put know-how and equipment at the disposal of others who might need it;
  3. Identify countries that could potentially utilise the capacity available with others during a relevant period of the year; and
  4. Explore the possibility of organizing the necessary logistics and compensation in inter-country arrangements of this kind.

On the basis of findings in (i) to (iv) above, the experts were to recommend action related to:

  1. Development of human resources and mechanisms needed to support cooperation in forest fire management and control, mainly at bilateral, regional and, eventually, international levels; and
  2. Mechanisms for the establishment of inter-country Agreements among groups of two or more countries, aimed at coordinating efforts to establish norms and to share resources, personnel and equipment in situations of emergency. This would include review of the feasibility to share heavy land and aerial equipment, and on prospects for developments on a wider geographic basis.

    The Experts would, further:

  1. Help identify the role of international organizations in promoting the work in points (i) to (vi).
  1. The Agenda of the meeting is given in Annex 1.

  2. The attendance in the Expert Meeting is detailed in Annex 2. The eighteen experts, from 14 countries, invited by the Director-General of FAO, were selected on the basis of their specialised knowledge and their familiarity with policies, practices, databases, monitoring procedures and dialogue in international, regional and national forest fire management. The experts served in their personal capacity and not as representatives of their governments or organizations.

  3. Participants in the meeting included resource persons from each of FAO and ITTO as the two co-sponsoring agencies and international NGOs including IUCN/WWF and GFMC. Regrets were received from UNESCO, the World Bank, UN/ECE and the UN University. UNEP, WHO and CIFOR were unable to attend.

  4. A number of FAO staff members from other units of the Forestry, Legal, Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Departments, attended the Opening and some of the sessions of the meeting.




    (Agenda Item 1)

  1. Mr. M. Hosny El-Lakany, Assistant Director-General, Forestry Department, welcomed the participants to the International Expert Meeting on Forest Fire Management on behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Mr. Jaques Diouf.

  2. Mr. El-Lakany noted that the meeting was organized by FAO in collaboration with the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). He expressed the appreciation of FAO for the continuing, constructive collaboration with ITTO as a long-standing partner in the forestry field.

  3. Mr. El-Lakany noted that the recent occurrence of extensive forest fires in different parts of the world had deepened the concern of policy makers, technicians and scientists, the general public, and the mass media alike.

  4. He mentioned that causes, extent and effects of forest fires were related not only to climatic and environmental conditions, but also to national policies, laws and institutions.

  5. He stressed that people used fire because they expected to obtain benefits from its use. The problem was not so much in its use as in its management. The overall goal of a policy on fire had to be focused on reducing adverse effects. Fires constituted a serious threat not only to the environment and human livelihoods, but also to human life. Conversely, fire was an important phenomenon in the dynamics of most ecosystems, and an essential tool in human management of such systems.

  6. Mr. El-Lakany referred to the meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires mentioned above, in which several of the participants attended. He re-iterated the findings of the Public Policies meeting that emergency responses only to suppress forest fires were not adequate by themselves; and that the key lay in forging links between sustainable land use policies and practices on the one hand and emergency preparedness on the other. He noted that, ultimately, private owners and local people must be intimately involved in the development and implementation of strategies and methodologies; involvement of all stakeholders was essential for success in forest fire prevention, prediction, suppression and monitoring.

  7. Co-operation between sectors at national level and between countries at international level was becoming increasingly important. Recent large-scale fires throughout the world had resulted in instances of countries assisting neighbouring countries on an ad hoc basis. Such cooperation could be significant also in establishing shared databases, strengthening policy-making capabilities, and developing institutional and legislative frameworks.

  8. Mr. El-Lakany noted that FAO had over the past years been active in the field of forest fire management, through support to member countries in policy level dialogue, the collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of information and know-how, the updating of forest fire terminology, and the development of methodologies and strategies related to early warning, prevention, management, control and remedial action following forest fires- i.e. rehabilitation. In this work, FAO had closely collaborated with national institutes in member countries, and with a number of international partners.

  9. In line with its mandate, FAO planned to strengthen its work in the field of forest fire management in the coming years. In this regard, FAO will continue to support countries to strengthen national capacities and capabilities, and, in collaboration with international partners, support the sharing of information and know-how among countries.

  10. Mr. El-Lakany stressed that in line with the objectives, the meeting should help review and support the development of mechanisms for the establishment of inter-country Agreements aimed at cooperation and collaboration between countries and, where feasible, the development of bilateral arrangements by which countries might share resources, personnel and equipment in situations of emergency. Requests from countries for this kind of support clearly indicated that as forest fire management issues were of utmost importance in achieving sustainable forest management, FAO and other agencies had to support countries to respond to these challenges.

  11. In closing, Mr. El-Lakany noted that the conclusions, recommendations and action plans to be developed by the present expert meeting would be made available to the 15th Session of the Committee on Forestry to be held in Rome during 12-16 March, 2001. Recommendations of COFO would, subsequently, be incorporated into the FAO work programme, including forthcoming initiatives related to forest fire management.

  12. The representative of ITTO, Mr. Efransjah, joined Mr. El-Lakany in welcoming the forest fire experts and participants to the meeting and acknowledged the close working relationship with FAO in key issues relating to sustainable forest management. He concurred with the statements of Mr. El-Lakany on the major constraints and inadequacies in forest fire management.

  13. Mr. Efransjah emphasized the challenge to synergize the work of all international institutions in order to better respond to the needs of member countries in forest fire management, including prevention. He mentioned the ITTO Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests as one of the key references under preparation by FAO, of guidelines for temperate and boreal forests. Mr. Efransjah noted that ITTO had redefined its role in forest fire management in light of the recent major fires in Indonesia and SE Asia. ITTO had a policy of collaborating and participating in inter-agency initiatives on forest fire management; he suggested that the expert meeting prepare a concrete plan of action to prioritize the support needed to serve countries and strengthen capacity and response to forest fire management. He looked forward to collaboration with FAO and other international agencies in supporting achievable initiatives that would make immediate and major impacts in forest fire management.




(Agenda Item 2)

  1. The meeting elected Mr. Ricardo Vélez Muñoz Chair; and Mr. Johann G. Goldammer and Mr. Samsudin Musa Vice-Chairs. Mr. Jan Troensegaard acted as Rapporteur. Ms. Christel Palmberg-Lerche, Mr. J.B. Carle, Mr. M. Paveri and Ms. G. Allard served in the Secretariat of the meeting.




(Agenda Item 3)

  1. The Provisional Agenda as proposed by the Secretariat was adopted (see Annex 1).

  2. Mr El Hadji Sène, Director, Forest Resources Division, Forestry Department, FAO, re-iterated that there had been a dramatic increase in the incidence and impacts of fire in recent years, however, the responses for suppression had been inadequate and often ad hoc. He outlined the objectives, outputs, format and content of the present expert meeting. Background documentation for the meeting were highlighted with special reference to the consultancy report “Proposals for Strengthening FAO’s Role Regarding Forest Fire Management”, mentioned above; technical papers by FAO, ITTO and other organisations made available; case studies prepared in advance by experts; Agreements and operational plans used by collaborating countries, and submissions by international agencies in line with the objectives of the meeting. Mr Sène concluded by stressing the need for cooperative and collaborative approaches in preparation of components of an action plan, with particular reference to capacity building and mechanisms in forest fire management and legal instruments for emergency responses. He emphasized that FAO was seeking expert advice on the key issues and recommendations for both immediate and longer term implementation and working groups were designed to facilitate these outputs (see Annex 3 and Annex 4).





  1. The experts noted that many previous consultations and meetings on forest fire management had consistently developed a number of recommendations which still awaited effective implementation. What was urgently needed today was an action plan specifying responsibilities and time frames for completion of the tasks at hand.

  2. Stressing that forest fire management was an integral component of sustainable forest and land management, the experts noted the following:

  1. The FAO Meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires, 1998, recommended that countries adopt sustainable forest and land use policies and practices to manage the flammability of forests;
  2. The vital existing roles and potential for the participation of communities in forest and vegetation fire management was a critical consideration for sustainability;
  3. If sustainable forest management practices were not established, then emergency responses of any kind would ultimately fail;
  4. On-going international criteria and indicators processes for sustainable forest management included indicators related to forest fires and the FAO coordinated Global Forest Resources Assessment database was being expanded to incorporate sustainability indicators;
  5. Widespread emergencies in recent years in all regions of the world underscored the importance of having fire management cooperation and international Agreements on mutual assistance and emergency response established in advance of fires;
  6. Prevention implied the actions in the fields of public awareness, equipment and infrastructure, enforcement and fire fuel management;
  7. There was an urgent necessity for countries to activate strong and effective fire prevention measures. It was better to prevent a wildfire than fight one; and
  8. Member countries needed to develop effective emergency response procedures internally, so that they could more effectively receive and efficiently use outside assistance.

Key Issues to be Addressed

  1. The experts noted that unmanaged and unplanned forest and other vegetation fires had negative impacts on human health and livelihoods, availability of forest products and services, biological diversity, and possibly climate change. In spite of allocation of increased resources, the number, scale and impact of forest and vegetation fires had increased in many countries in recent times.

  2. The experts further noted that existing national organisations and international agencies and mechanisms, some of them with long-standing and significant experience, had struggled to address the complexities and problems of forest fire management. In spite of this, much of the work and efforts of reviews, missions, studies and development of new international structures had not translated effectively into meaningful and sustained improvement in the management of forest fires around the world.

Major Constraints and Challenges

  1. The experts stressed that the main reasons identified for the above situation were:

  1. Lack of national land-use and fire policies and their implementation, and lack of recognition and compliance with related international processes and conventions;
  2. Low level of awareness among policy makers, decision makers and the public, which led to institutions lacking adequate resources, focus and capacity;
  3. Insufficient human resource capability in most aspects of forest fire management due to inadequate education and training;
  4. Inadequate awareness, dissemination and understanding of existing information and experiences, lack of socialisation of information and know-how (e.g. early warning systems, use of prescribed fire);
  5. Lack of basic quantitative and qualitative information and data, which provided a relevant, useful and often necessary basis for the interpretation and meaningful analysis and use of forest fire statistics;
  6. Lack of appropriate bilateral and multi-lateral Agreements for mutual assistance prior to fire emergency events.


  1. The experts recognized the fundamental requirement for effective sustainable forest and land management policies and practices. To achieve this objective, an overriding priority was the establishment of Agreements, protocols and institutional capacity to better share international fire management resources, knowledge and understanding.

  2. The Expert Meeting requested FAO, ITTO and collaborating agencies, to support action as set out in recommendations below:

  3. Policy

  1. Identify relevant existing policy instruments, mechanisms and networks which could support and strengthen commitment and action on forest fire management; and
  2. Support activities that bring local people, professionals and policy makers together and build awareness and capacity.
  1. Technical Support

  1. Facilitate networking and collaboration between countries through identifying or creating national focal points;
  2. Exchange experiences through institutional collaboration;
  3. Provide technical support to enhance management of forest resources that include fire prevention measures as an integral part of such action;
  4. Improve capacity and capability to prepare for forest fires, particularly in countries that have existing gaps in attributes such as laws, policy, planning, practices and monitoring;
  5. Catalyze action in providing technical support to member countries in development of Agreements3 at bilateral and regional levels (see Annex 5. and Annex 6);
  6. Strengthen in-house human and non-staff resources to respond to increasing issues and actions in forest fire management.
  1. Information and Data Bases

  1. Make information available on techniques, networks, resources, collaboration and approaches to forest fire management;
  2. Develop a data standard within the Forest Resource Assessment framework to address the requirements of national and international fire management reporting needs;
  3. Review on-going activities in forest fire management by international and regional organisations to clarify linkages, facilitate collaboration and identify gaps. Key factors are land use policies and practices, community based fire management, knowledge, training, public awareness, institutional arrangements;
  4. Synthesize and support the preparation of country profiles which provide international collaborators and donors an insight into institutional set-up and operational responsibilities at national level, as well as basic information without which outside assistance will not be effective or even possible. Aspects in such country profiles to include reference to: political will, governance, security, socio-economic, climate, vegetation, demography, resources (personnel, equipment, funds, information and infrastructure);
  5. Establish an international forest fire information centre to facilitate the sharing of world-wide information among all partners regarding such issues as: Agreements, resource availability, contacts at regional, eco-regional, global levels, etc. This centre should provide real-time situation reports and conditions. In addition, the centre should be institutionalised in order to play an advisory role in assisting countries to develop Agreements and respond to emergencies.
  1. Emergency Response Agreements

  1. Develop emergency response Agreements bilaterally and multilaterally (at regional or global levels, as appropriate); details will vary depending on considerations that may vary from region to region;
  2. Encourage forest fire management cooperation, and catalyze and support the development of new emergency response Agreements, making full use of already existing regional and other mechanisms, such as those in the CILSS, SADC, Mediterranean, Baltic, South-East Asia, Central America, Caribbean, South America and other regions, as yet to be identified;
  3. Compile an inventory of existing emergency response Agreements to serve as models for others. Guidelines or models should be prepared for developing such Agreements and related operating plans and protocols. FAO could distribute a questionnaire soliciting opportunities for new Agreements;
  4. Activate a task force to track and monitor progress in the development of Agreements and collaboration and develop a detailed action plan that defines time frames, responsibilities and costs to implement the recommendations of the International Expert Meeting4;
  5. Develop funding mechanisms to encourage vigorous action that leads to the development of emergency response Agreements;
  6. Establish compatible incident management organisation systems in countries to facilitate the integration of international resources; such mechanisms need to be compatible between them, but do not need to be identical;
  7. Review and expand a “Fire Season Table”, for all countries to show complementing and overlapping fire seasons; the purpose of this information would be to determine availability of resources from other countries, in cases of emergency (example given in Annex 7.);
  8. Continue and strengthen the update and dissemination of forest fire management related information in collaboration with organizations to be determined;
  9. Develop training and briefing programmes for emergency response teams, based upon on-going experiences; and
  10. Catalyze and support the development of emergency simulation response exercises among countries prior to emergency situations arising.
  1. Collaborating Agencies

  1. Participate in the existing initiatives and mechanisms such as the Interagency Task Force Working Group on Wildland Fire of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR)5; the United Nations International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG)6; the Joint United Nations OCHA/UNEP Environment Unit7, the Global Fire Monitoring Centre (GFMC), and actively support the development of their programmes, and facilitate linkages within the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) 8 ; and
  2. Prepare a preliminary action plan and time schedule (initially without prioritization) for implementing the above recommendations (see Annex 8.).


[ Annex 1 | Annex 2 | Annex 3 | Annex 4 | Annex 5 | Annex 6 | Annex 7 | Annex 8]
[ Appendix 1 | Final Remarks by the Editor ]


| IFFN No. 24 ]

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