Brazil – Emergency Fire Prevention and Control Project  A: Project Background and Development Objective

Emergency Fire Prevention and Control Project

A: Project Background and Development Objective

1. Project Background

The Brazilian Amazon contains nearly one third of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests. These forests provide important global environmental services such as a repository of biodiversity, a carbon sink, and protection of the watershed of the World’s largest river. Some scientists also believe that regional weather patterns are closely linked to the mass of vegetation in the Amazon Rain Forest. World attention has been focused in recent years on the degradation of large areas through forest-to-pasture conversion, slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, mining and fires. Over the last decade, approximately 1.5 million hectares of old-growth forests have been cleared each year and 1 million hectares are selectively logged in the Amazon. A large portion of these logged forests experience ground fires that can kill up to 75% of adult trees. Nearly 60 million hectares (an area equal to the size of France) of old-growth forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon during the last 2 decades.

Most of the burning that occurs during the Amazon dry season is caused by farmers and ranchers burning off cleared land to plant crops or renew pastures. Burning has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples to clear small areas for crops. Since the 1970s, larger and larger areas of land were cleared at once for pasture, plantation crops, and infrastructure. The high cost of mechanical clearing meant that fire was by far the cheapest means of rapidly clearing felled timber and undesirable species. However, each year, a significant amount of land is burned accidentally. In these “escaped” fires, valuable timber, pasture, fences, power lines and other infrastructure may be destroyed. In 1998, there has been a deficit in rainfall compared to other years due to the El Niño weather pattern. Consequently, the risk of escaped fires is higher in 1998 than in normal years. There is some evidence that the Amazon forests are becoming increasingly fire prone and that large fires may occur in dry years.

During February/March 1998, a series of large-scale wildfires burned some 40,000 km2, or approximately 20%, of area the state of Roraima, including 9,254 km2 of closed-canopy forest, and extensive areas of savannas, agricultural fields and Indian reserves. These fires quickly burned through vast areas of savanna, but also, unexpectedly, burned their way into forested areas, a highly unusual phenomenon. In the opinion of many experts, such fires, once they occur on a large scale, are nearly impossible to suppress. The burning in Roraima was finally halted only by the onset of the rains at the end of March 1998.

In Roraima, the damage to forest, savannas, pastures, livestock and human beings was dramatic. Many farmers lost their crops and ranchers lost their cattle. Some homes were burned but, fortunately, there was no loss of life. Hospitals in the area reported significant increases in admissions for acute respiratory problems, and airports were closed down for days at a time by drifting smoke. Wells and streams went dry and, when the rains finally began in late March, they were polluted by the runoff from burned-over land. However, total damage was limited because of the relatively low population in the area. The Government of Brazil budgeted R$28 million (US$23.7 million) in disaster relief funds for the State.

As the dry season begins in the Southern Amazon in June/July 1998, there is a significantly increased risk of escaped fires because of the abundance of highly flammable fuel, exacerbated by the increasing extent of cleared, logged and previously burned areas. The highest risk area in the Southern Amazon for the 1998 dry season was defined by a groundbreaking scientific study roughly as an arc (or, Deforestation Arc) in the southern Amazon region some 200-600 km in width, and some 3,000 km in length extending from the State of Maranhão in the East through parts of Tocantins, Pará, Mato Grosso, Amazonas, Rondônia and Acre in the West (Figure 1). Meteorological data show that some parts of this area have experienced large rainfall deficits, and soil moisture is exceptionally low at some points. This area corresponds to the expansion of the Brazilian frontier where logging, ranching, farming, and other activities have followed the routes of the Belém-Brasília and Transamazon Highways that roughly form the E-W and N-S axes of the arc.

Conditions in the Southern Amazon are different from Roraima. The population of the municipalities located in the Arc is approximately 1.8 million people, and includes significant urban areas (such as Imperatriz, Marabá, Altamira, Jí Paraná, Ariquemes and others), infrastructure, livestock, and other valuable assets. The potential for environmental destructiondestruction, damage of property, and loss of life and injury is much greater than in Roraima. The aftermath of catastrophic fires along the arc could potentially be much more serious than in Roraima.

Although the population and installed infrastructure are considerably greater than in Roraima, the readiness of society in the Southern Amazon to confront a major catastrophe is very limited. The seven States along the Arc have rudimentary civil defense organizations, but virtually none of the municipalities outside of the capital cities has any civil defense capacity. The capital cities of each state and some secondary cities have a Fire Company organized under the State Military Police. However, these fire companies are trained and equipped exclusively to fight structural fires and not wildland fires. There is a substantial military presence in the area, including army and air-force bases inside or close to the Arc, and there are 14 airports within the Arc which have capacity for passengers, cargo and refueling. In Roraima, the Army and Air Force provided important support in the form of transport, temporary encampments with sleeping, eating and health facilities, as well as communications, transportation, and logistical support. However, the military are not specifically trained or equipped for emergency operations and for addressing the occurrence of multiple fire events across a wide area. Finally, there are no agreed procedures and priorities in place that would be useful in allocating assets and resolving conflicts. For example, in Roraima, there was some conflict because the army sought to control and position firefighting resources in disagreement with the firefighters’ own positions.

The Government of Brazil with support of the G-7 Pilot Program and the World Bank is working in the Amazon region of Brazil to help conserve important the environmental assets in the region. The Pilot Program includes projects aiming at improving natural resource management in all nine Amazonian States, as well as projects to strengthen indigenous reserves, extractive reserves, and forest management. A “Fire and Deforestation Control Project,” (PRODESQUE) is under preparation under the G-7 Pilot Program. This five-year project planned for US$30 million would assist both federal and state environmental agencies in the Amazon region to develop and implement a unified surveillance system for monitoring deforestation, burning and forest degradation. It would also strengthen local capacity to control illegal deforestation and burning. The project would focus on priority areas selected by the states under the Natural Resources Policy Project (NRPP). It would also support training and acquisition of equipment for surveillance and enforcement. While PRODESQUE would focus on long-term monitoring and enforcement goals, the proposed project would address urgent issues caused by the current emergency. The lessons learned from the proposed project would be incorporated into PRODESQUE.

2. Project development objective and key performance indicators (see Annex 1):

The development objectives of the proposed project are to prevent and control large-scale wildfires in the southern part of the Brazilian Amazon during the dry season of 1998 and to generate lessons regarding forest fire prevention and suppression techniques, through (i) risk assessment activities;, (ii) fire prevention, through primarily through community mobilization and training;, (iii) strengthening of emergency coordination at federal, state and municipal levels;, (iv) building capacity for fire suppression;, (v) and monitoring and evaluation. .

This emergency project, scheduled to begin in September 1998, would assist both federal and state environmental agencies in the Amazon to implement an education and public awareness campaign, provide fire prevention and control training, and establish a rapid response task force to combat major fires, if and when they occur. . The project would focus on high-risk areas identified by weather data, modellingmodeling and satellite imagery. In addition, for the medium-term, the project would support strengthening Federal, State and Municipal emergency preparedness through the Civil Defense system and relevant institutions..

Key performance indicators are:

  • Reliable fire risk-assessment models created and in place;
  • Alert system in place with timely dissemination of relevant information to decision makers;
  • Clear priorities established for target areas/populations;
  • Operating Agreements (convênios) among relevant Federal agencies, as well as between Federal and State agencies signed;
  • Emergency fire enforcement campaign in place;
  • 120,000 farmers, ranchers, farm workers trained in controlled burning;
  • Public information and community outreach program in place;
  • State and municipal fire-brigades created, trained, equipped;
  • Emergency control center established and functioning 24-hours during high fire-risk periods;
  • Project monitoring and evaluation system in place based on indicators of inputs, outputs and impacts;
  • All information regarding project activities, including equipment procurement and distribution, disseminated in a timely and transparent manner;
  • Advisory Group established and operational;
  • Communications consultant hired;
  • Green Line established, operational and staffed with trained personnel;
  • Enforcement teams established and operational;
  • COMDECs, CEDECs, Conservation and Indigenous Areas Fire Brigades established, trained, equipped and operational;
  • Participating Military entities in response ready condition.



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