Project FireFight South East Asia

 WWF – The World Wide Fund for Nature and IUCN – The World Conservation Union have joined forces to develop “Project FireFight South East Asia”. Implementation of the project was initiated in March 2000 with support from the EU. The project seeks to secure essential policy reform through a strategy of advocacy using syntheses and analysis of existing information supporting new outputs. The project operates at national and regional level across South East Asia making efforts to support and advocate the creation of legislative and economic bases for mitigating harmful anthropogenic forest fires.

Products and insights are being developed in each of the three themes: Economics of Fire Uses, Community Based Fire Management (CBFiM) and Legal and Regulatory Aspects of Forest and Land Fires. A key requirement for Project FireFight South East Asia is clear targeting of messages to identified audiences and stakeholders using appropriate and effective mechanisms.

By March 2002 the Project has: 

  • Initiated contact with regional forest policy and management information networks involving the academic, private, public sectors, NGO and civil society.

  • Held an International Workshop on Community Based Fire Management in Bangkok in December 2000 and distributed the workshop report to over 250 Institutions in the region.

  • Identified community fire management strategies currently operational within South East Asia and prepared a review which will be published and distributed worldwide early in 2002.

  • Commissioned a review of Community Based Fire Management in Lao PDR. In collaboration with RECOFTC and FAO a set of case studies of fire management will be published and distributed worldwide early in 2002.

  • Organized a major international Conference in Balikpapan, July 2001 on Community Involvement in Fire Management with support from a group of key actors in forestry and natural resources management in Asia and across the world.

  • Commenced work with RECOFTC, ADPC, Forest Agencies, WWF and IUCN Offices and Projects on action research into Community Based Fire Management including potential pilot projects.

  • Reviewed legal and regulatory aspects of forest fires in South East Asia for publication early in 2002.

  • Initial planning for a workshop to develop a set of “best practice” components for effective fire related laws and regulations, based on the ITTO Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests.

  • Reviewed the economic aspects of the fire use by various stakeholders including subsistence, smallholder and large-scale commercial fire practices for publication in early 2002.

  • Initial planning for a workshop on economic of fire uses.

  • The South East Asian Fire Science Network (SEAFire) has been established in collaboration with academics and agency staff from seven of the countries in South East Asia and the Canadian International Development Agency. The network is a valuable mechanism for distributing the insights and understandings of the Project and its partners.

  • Represented the perspectives of the region and findings of the Project through participation in, among others, the FAO International Experts Meeting in March 2001, ASEAN Haze Technical Task Force and Sub-Regional Meetings and the ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation workshop.

  • Prepared a communications strategy to key target audiences for the Project to disseminate the results of studies and impacts of networking.


Project FireFight South East Asia will continue to build on its work to identify underlying causes of fires, in particular the stakeholders whose behaviour puts the most pressure on ecosystems at risk. Its advocacy and communications activities will focus on these stakeholders, working with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), who have taken a lead in forest fire matters.

Insights arising from the reviews, networks and analysis include:

With respect to Community Involvement in their fires:

  • It is important to differentiate between harmful and beneficial fires

  • Local communities can and do manage fires in many situations and for many different reasons

  • Communities cannot provide the complete solution to dealing with harmful forest fires

  • Other stakeholders, including the government and the private sector, must also play a substantial role particularly preparing for and fighting extensive fires

  • Local people are often in the best position to manage or prevent fires at local scale

With respect to laws and regulations in the region:

  • There is no country in South East Asia where the law is complete and coherent

  • Each country has some elements of legislation that are positive and sound

  • Forest Law Enforcement is inadequate due to:

  • Confusion and conflict in laws

  • Lack of support for the rule of law

  • Incompatible or confused objectives for forest management

  • Bureaucratic capacity

With respect to the economics of fires

  • Data on the economics of fire use not readily available

  • Fire use may be based on habit and historical practice not business or ecological principles

  • There is little or no consideration of the entire suite of costs, benefits and externalities

  • In all cases, the use of fires has financial and economic consequences

  • Alternative methods to fire use have been developed on a commercial scale in Southeast Asia but suited mainly to clearing low volumes of biomass such as oil palm or rubber replanting

  • When applied to low volume vegetation, zero-burning methods are not more expensive –and may actually be more cost effective– than burning

  • When applied for the clearing of high-volume forest, burning remains cheaper because it is difficult, long and costly to get rid of high amounts of piled wood with mechanical methods

  • There are some barriers and costs, however, when shifting towards zero-burning including: the complexity of the operations; change of “habit” on the part of managers and many land-clearing operations are conducted by contractors, who are difficult to control

At the level of smallholders, the investment for using zero burning is simply not possible at present

Comparing the relatively low financial costs of zero-burning methods and fire management with the enormous economic costs entailed by society at large from fires, it is clear that there is a market and institutional failure in fire management

More Generally:

¨     For South East Asia there is little data on:

Number of fires

  • Where and when they occurred

  • How big they were

  • How/Why they started

¨     There has been virtually no research on:

  • Fire behaviour and Fire causes

  • Fuel characteristics

  • Weather and fires

¨     So the “problem” is ill-defined

¨     Governments in the region need to be enabled to deal with underlying causes of fires effectively instead of merely reacting fire outbreaks

¨     The private sector plays almost no role in forest fire management although it is a key source of major fires


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