Wildfire management, a burning issue for livelihoods and land-use

31 May 2007, Rome – Forest fires are increasing as a result of climate change, and they are affecting larger areas and becoming more severe in several regions of the world, FAO
said today. FAO called upon countries to invest more in fire preparedness and prevention.

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

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

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

Fire is an important and widely used tool in agriculture and in maintaining ecosystems. Wildfires, however, which are frequently the result of negligence or arson, destroy millions of hectares
of forests and woodlands, resulting in loss of 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 1 500 fire experts and planners
from more than 80 countries during the 4th International Wildland Fire Conference, recently held in Seville, Spain (13 to 17 May).

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

A Fire Management Actions Alliance was established by 40 founding member organizations to implement the voluntary guidelines and enhance international cooperation in fire management at the
regional, national, sub-national and community levels.

Climate change

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

Regional vulnerability

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


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