FAO's normative activities on Forest Fires
FIRE HAS BEEN A MAJOR INFLUENCE on the development and management of many of the world's forests. Some forest ecosystems have evolved in response to frequent fires from natural as well as human causes, but most others are negatively affected by wildfire. Every year millions of hectares of the world's forests are consumed by fire, which results in enormous economic losses because of destroyed timber, burnt housing, high costs of fire suppression, damage to environmental, recreational and amenity values and loss of life and livelihoods.
Most wildfires in forests and woodlands today are caused by people as a result of the misuse of fire for conversion of forests to agricultural lands, maintenance of grazing and agricultural lands, extraction of non-wood forest products, hunting, and clearing of land for mining, industrial development or resettlement. Forest fires may also result from personal or ownership conflicts and negligence (e.g. campfires, cigarette butts).
Although fire has been the primary agent of forest degradation, as a natural process it serves an important function in maintaining the health of certain ecosystems. The conventional view of fire as a destructive agent requiring immediate suppression has given way to theview that fire can and should be used to meet land management goals under given ecological conditions.
In its role as a neutral forum, FAO brings countries together to discuss technical and policy issues related to medium- to long-term fire management plans. FAO collaborates with other organizations and bodies within and outside the United Nations system, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which coordinate emergency inputs of international agencies or donors during crisis situations. FAO also works closely with many governmental and non-governmental agencies, organizations and mechanisms, including the United States Forest Service, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the Global Fire Monitoring Centre (GFMC), the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO), the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), theWorld Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). FAO is an active member of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) Wildland Fire Advisory Group and is a founding member of the FAO/Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)/International Labour Organization (ILO) Team of Specialists on Forest Fire.
For more than 50 years, FAO has provided information and technical assistance in the area of forest fire management, including fire terminology, data collection and dissemination, preparation of guidelines on forest fire management, status reports on forest fires and provision of direct advice to member countries. Special attention has recently been given to information and public awareness on related policy, legal and institutional issues.
FAO collaborated with UN-ISDR and other international partners in preparing the Strategy to Enhance International Cooperation in Fire Management, which is based on four pillars: an assessment of fire management; review and assessment of international cooperation; fire management guidelines; and a programme of action to implement those guidelines.
In response to member-country requests, FAO and partners undertook a multistakeholder process to prepare voluntary guidelines for forest fire management to detail principles and the policy, legal and regulatory framework and other enabling conditions and strategic actions for more holistic approaches to fire management. FAO's work has also involved assessment of international forest fire agreements including the collection and regular updating of related information; review of relevant national legislation; and the preparation of guidelines and checklists for the development of new international agreements.
FAO is involved in data collection and analysis and collaborates with ECE, GFMC and a number of other agencies on fire databases. In the framework of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 (FRA 2005), FAO prepared a thematic study on forest fire management summarizing regional fire management information provided by FAO member countries.
FAO has further been involved in activities in a forest fire research network established within the framework of the Committee on Mediterranean Forestry Questions-Silva Mediterranea, a committee of FAO's African Forestry and Wildlife Commission (AFWC), European Forestry Commission (EFC) and Near East Forestry Commission (NEFC). Over the past decades, FAO has organized a series of meetings and workshops with the support of CIHEAM.
The Forestry Department and FAO's Remote Sensing Centre collaborate with the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission at Ispra, Italy on the better use of satellite remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to evaluate the incidence and extent of forest fires.