Brazil – El Niño Forest Fires OCHA Situation Report No. 2

R e l i e f W e b
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Date: 01 Apr 1998

Brazil – El Niño Forest Fires OCHA SituationReport No. 2

Ref: OCHAGVA – 98/0178


1. At the request of the Government of Brazil, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has dispatched a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to assist in the joint assessment of the emergency situation and international relief requirements to combat the forest fires that are presently devastating areas in the state of Roraima in Brazil.

2. On Sunday, 29 March 1998, the seven-person UNDAC Team, including two United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) experts, arrived in Brazil and on Monday, 30 March 1998, met with the Minister Fernando Catao, Secretary for Regional Policies and the Coordinator for the Roraima Operations, and with the national authorities involved in the overall emergency operation.

3. During the consultation/coordination meetings with the representatives of the Office of the President, the Brazilian Army and Air Force, IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), FUNAI (National Foundation for Assistance to the Indigenous People), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Brazilian authorities made a thorough presentation on the general situation in the affected State of Roraima and on the measures taken so far at a federal and state levels to combat the fire.


4. The State of Roraima, located in the north of Brazil, bordering Venezuela and Guyana, is the state with the lowest demographic density in Brazil (1 inhabitant/km2) with a total population of some 247,000 inhabitants. At the same time, it registers the third biggest indigenous community in the country (approximately 14 per cent of the total indigenous population in Brazil). The main activities are timber extraction, gold and diamond mining and cattle raising. Approximately 18,000 small farming places exist in the state and the subsistence agriculture is the basis. Roraima has one national park, one national forest area and three ecological stations.

5. According to the authorities involved in this emergency, the underlying causes of the current fires lie on several factors, namely the unusual and adverse weather effects of the “El Niño” phenomenon. This phenomenon is reportedly causing a serious drought since September 1997, that has been affecting the northern and northeastern parts of Brazil. Inadequate agricultural practices, like the burning of fields for pasture and agriculture have also increased the severity of the problem. The average rainfall during the trimester September-December is usually of 600mm. In 1997, during the same period, no rainfall was registered.

6. The State is characterized by three types of vegetation, the savanna, contact forest (transition zone) and rain forest. The fires started in the first layer (savanna), ignited by the “queimadas” (burning fields for pasture and agricultural purposes) and got out of control brewed by very high temperatures and strong winds up to 100km/hour.

7. Presently the forces operating in the area (firefighters and military personnel) are dealing with nine fronts: Serra de Pacaraima, Anajari, Mucajai, Apiau, Ajanari, Caracarai, Boqueirao, Confianca and Ilha de Maraca. The fire in one of the worst hit areas (Apiau) is reportedly under control.

8. According to satellite images, a line of fire, of approximately 400km, extends from the north to the southeast of Roraima, burning the so-called contact forest and endangering the rainforest, where the Yanomami community lives.


9. The national authorities have established a coordinating body, presided by the Secretary for Regional Policies, Minister Fernando Catao, which comprises representatives of several Ministries (e.g. Environment, Foreign Affairs and Health), the Military Firefighters, Brazilian Army and Air Force, as well as diverse institutions such as the IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) and FUNAI (National Foundation for Assistance to the Indigenous People).

10. Presently, an emergency operation (“Roraima Operation”) is underway in the region, under the coordination of the Army and with the support of the Brazilian Civil Defence and IBAMA. Firefighter contingents from seven states have been deployed to affected areas as well as military personnel to combat the fires.
11. Helicopters and several water bombing equipment have been used un the operations, but have proved insufficient to control the fire. Some 1,000 firefighting personnel have been involved in combating the fire, including from Argentine and Venezuela.

12. Authorities, through FUNAI have been assisting several indigenous communities affected, providing them with food packages.

13. The UNDAC team, which arrived in the city of Boa-Vista, Roraima’s state capital on 31 March 1998, is assessing the situation with the military command in charge of the overall in loco operation. They will be looking at priority needs (humanitarian and logistical). Based on the preliminary governmental estimates, these would apparently involve planes and helicopters (for transport of personnel and rescue, as well helicopters designed for firefighting operations), and firefighting equipment not available in Brazil.


14. GOVERNMENTS USD Argentina Deployment of firefighters and helicopters to assist in the operations +++ Venezuela Deployment of firefighters to assist in the operations +++ (+++ value not specified)


15. Donors wishing to channel their contributions through OCHA – Geneva can transfer funds to OCHA account no. CO.590.160.1 at the Swiss Bank Corporation, Case Postale 2770, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland, with reference: Brazil – Fires.

16. For coordination purposes, donors are requested to inform OCHA Geneva, as indicated below, of bilateral relief missions/ pledges/ contributions and their corresponding values by item.

17. This situation report and further information on ongoing emergencies are also available on the OCHA Internet Website at:

Telephone number: + 41/22/9171234
In case of emergency only: + 41/22/9172010
Interim Desk Officer: Mr. Dmitri Balabanov, OCHA Disaster Response Branch, direct tel. + 41/22/9172827
Contact for medias: Ms. Elena Ponomareva, direct tel. +41/22/9172336
Telex 41 42 42 ocha ch
Fax: + 41 22 917 0023



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