ENVIRONMENT: Top World Wildfire Gurus to Tackle Burning Climate Issues

Top World Wildfire Gurus to Tackle Burning Climate Issues

22 February 2011

published by www.gbn.co.za

South Africa / GFMC — Wildfire experts from around the world will converge in South Africa in May at a conference to debate burning issues such as how to cope with fiercer fires in hotter climates, the latest fire-management technologies, and how fire management programmes can help alleviate poverty.

At the conference, Johann Goldammer, of the Global Fire Monitoring Centre in Germany, will describe alarming new research showing that wildfires can set off explosions when burning land planted with landmines, and that chemical and radioactive air pollution can result from the burning of terrain contaminated by mercury, radioactivity and depleted uranium ammunition.

He will also describe how wildfires on the edges of human settlements are causing rising air pollution, affecting human health.

The Fifth International Wildland Fire Conference, the most high-profile event on the international wild firefighting agenda, will take place in Sun City, the North West Province from May 9 – 13, 2011
The theme this year is “Living with Fire – Addressing Global Change through Integrated Fire Management.”

Highly regarded South African businessman and strategist Clem Sunter will deliver the keynote address, describing a five-step methodology for preparing for and coping with disasters such as runaway fires and floods. This is pertinent in an era in which the climate is changing fast and natural disasters occur frequently.

The relationship between climate change and fires is a major theme of the conference, and highlights include a presentation by Canadian scientist Mike Flannigan outlining research that suggests more, fiercer fires are occurring in many parts of the world as average temperatures rise.

Navashni Govender of SANParks will describe the organisation’s use of high-intensity fires to combat thickening scrub in parts of the Kruger National Park that were previously dominated by grassland and tall trees – the crucial savannah biome, which extends across much of South Africa and sustains millions of people. The thickening scrubland is partly due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2, which helps scrubland to thrive. A controlled fire on this scale is a first for South Africa, if not globally.

Sally Archibald, of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa, will outline research into what constitutes a large fire in South Africa, how much damage these cause, where the worst problems occur and the resources needed to deal with them.

Nceba Ngcobo, representing the South African government’s Natural Resource Management Programmes, will describe how South Africa’s government-funded “Working for” programmes, including the Working on Fire programme, has created thousands of jobs. Other delegates will describe similar job-creation programmes, as well as successful community efforts to control fire in the forests of Ghana and in Zimbabwe, among other places.

The conference is partially sponsored by the South African government and organised by the sub-Saharan wildland fire network, AfriFireNet. It is held under the auspices of the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction [ UNISDR] and the Food and Agricultural Organisation [FAO].

The United Nations Undersecretary General Margareta Wahlstroem, and José Antonio Prado of the Food and Agricultural Organisation, will give opening comments at the conference, and policymakers from 180 countries will take part in a panel discussion through video conferencing.

“This conference is the forum where researchers, fire experts, government ministries and communities involved in fire management can learn from one another,” said Val Charlton, National Organizing Committee. “We’re honoured and absolutely delighted that the event is to be held in South Africa.”

“The relationship between humans and fires is extremely complex,” she said. “Ecosystems need fire, yet it can cause massive devastation in areas that can ill afford it. Those working in fire management must constantly tread a very fine line, and one that changes constantly as conditions shift.

“This means it is crucial – for the sake of healthy ecosystems as well as healthy societies – for fire management experts in every country to keep abreast of all new research and developments.

“The conference is bound to be fascinating, and we are really looking forward to it.”

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