Africa: Wildfire Management, a Burning Issue for Livelihoods and Land-Use

Africa: Wildfire Management, a Burning Issuefor Livelihoods and Land-Use

1 June 2007

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Africa — Forest fires are increasing as a result of climate change, and theyare affecting larger areas and becoming more severe in several regions of theworld, FAO said today. FAO called upon countries to invest more in firepreparedness and prevention.

“Countries need to enhance collaboration, share their knowledge andincreasingly target people, who are the main cause of fires, throughawareness-raising and education,” said Peter Holmgren, Chief of the ForestResources Development Service, FAO.

In the year 2000 alone, an estimated 350 million hectares of forests andwoodlands were destroyed by fire, with sub-Saharan Africa and Australasiaaccounting for 80% of the total area burned.

In almost all regions, people were by far the biggest cause of vegetationfires, with the Mediterranean region reporting that as many as 95 percent offires were caused by humans.

Fire is an important and widely used tool in agriculture and in maintainingecosystems. Wildfires, however, which are frequently the result of negligence orarson, destroy millions of hectares of forests and woodlands, resulting in lossof human and animal life and immense economic damage.

Fire management activities, including monitoring, early warning, preparedness,prevention, suppression and restoration, were among the issues debated by 1 500fire experts and planners from more than 80 countries during the 4thInternational Wildland Fire Conference, recently held in Seville, Spain (13 to17 May).

A global strategy to enhance international cooperation in fire management waspresented by FAO and its partners. This includes a global assessment of firemanagement detailing incidence and impacts in all regions, a review ofinternational cooperation, and the voluntary guidelines in fire management,incorporating principles and strategic actions.

Climate change:

Every year, 9 200 million tonnes of biomass are burnt globally for energygeneration. Wildfires consume over half of this – some 5 130 million tonnes ofbiomass. At the same time, they release 3 431 million tonnes of CO2 into theatmosphere, contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions and thus to climatechange.

Regional vulnerability:

Regional papers contributing to the Fire management – global assessment 2006include information from North America, where researchers note that theincidence and severity of fires are expected to increase dramatically as aresult of climate change. Across the Mediterranean, increased air temperaturesand reduced summer rainfall are also likely to lead to increased fire risk.Among the negative effects of fires, the Southeast Asian regional paperhighlighted recurrent land-use fires that generate emissions which seriouslyaffect the environment and human health and security.

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