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Wildfires are increasingly dangerous in the UNECE region

Published: 18 March 2015

Between 2011 and 2014, more than 776 people were killed and 532,000 evacuated in wildfire situations worldwide, and a total of 16,100 houses were destroyed. Based on modelling it is estimated that annual human mortality due to inhalation of fire-generated particulate matter (PM2.5) may reach 339,000. Permanent transfer of carbon from burned ecosystems, which will not recover after fire, to the atmosphere contributes to about 20-30% of global emissions from fossil fuels.

The UNECE region is experiencing unprecedented, large and disastrous wildfires as an accumulated consequence of socio-economic, land-use and climate changes. Recent episodes like the wildfires burning Western Russia in 2010, or the fires currently affecting Valparaiso in Chile,  which lead to the evacuation of more than 7,000 people, reveal an increasing vulnerability of society to the direct and secondary effects of fire in the UNECE region and globally. Building resilience is imperative to the development of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

The Fire Aviation Guidelines with the International Manual of Common Rules for Fire Aviation – prepared by the International Wildfire Preparedness Mechanism (IWPM) – present a first set of voluntary international standards for safe and efficient international aerial firefighting operations. These Guidelines are intended to assist communities to manage fire and build resilience to the effects of wildfire by improving the effectiveness of specialised support capability – fire aviation.

While there have been advances in fire management in some countries, there are still barriers preventing the sharing of scientific and technical knowledge and good practices between wildfire agencies in different member States.

According to a recent study, wildfires may become the most important driver of global degradation and destruction of vegetation. Governments have been alerted by both the scientific community and the professional fire management community that the threat from wildfires will become increasingly dangerous in the coming years due to the effect of climate and socio-economic changes. Some countries already possess advanced wildfire knowledge, and have the technologies and expertise to manage wildfire risk effectively.

The Joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section and the Global Fire Monitoring Centre are available for member States, international organizations and the UN system to serve as a think tank and advisory body to address the challenging cross-sectoral issues in wildland fire management at the global level, notably in wildfire disaster risk reduction. The wildland fire scientific community and the professional fire management community will continue to challenge the United Nations system to develop voluntary or legally binding commitments to facilitate inter-agency, international and cross-boundary cooperation.

Note to editors

The joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section supports the activities on forests in the UNECE region, provides the Secretariat to the UNECE Committee on Forests and Forest Industry and the FAO European Forestry Commission, and works to implement the UNECE/FAO Integrated Programme of Work (IPOW).

The Fire Aviation Guidelines and the IWPM are the result of the "UNECE/FAO Regional Forum on Cross-boundary Fire Management" which took place in November 2013, organised in cooperation between the Joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section and the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC).

The Global Fire Monitoring Centre (GFMC) together with the UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire have provided guidance to UNECE member States on forest fire management and forest fire policies in bilateral and international cooperation since 1993. With the increasing insight in the global interconnectedness of fire and fire effects, the need to address this problem collectively at global level emerged. As a result, in 2001, the Global Wildland Fire Network (GWFN) was established. GWFN is a Thematic Platform under the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

For further information please contact

Alicja Kacprzak, Joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section

Email: info.ECE-FAOforests@unece.org

website: www.unece.org/forests


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