Wildfires: Situation and Actions
(IFFN No. 14 - January 1996, p. 18-19)
During the meeting of the ITTO Panel on the Protection of Tropical Forests against Forest Fires in Jakarta (6-10 March 1995) the General Secretary of the National Committee of Forest Protection and Bush Fire Control presented the existing situation in Côte d'Ivoire and actions that are taken currently.
In 1950 the total forest cover of Côte d'Ivoire was 15 million ha. Ten years later total forest cover had decreased to 10.68 million ha, and in 1992 only 3.5 million ha remained. The annual rate of deforestation is estimated to be approximately 320,000 ha.
Shifting agriculture, stimulated by increasing amounts of immigrants from neighbouring countries, forest opened by exploitation roads, inefficient land management practices associated with fallow systems, and bush and forest fires are the most important causes of forest and bush degradation.
Every year the national press reports on disastrous wildfires. The "Ivoir Soir" No.1941 of 16 February 1995 gives a good example of the type of problem encountered. Under the headline "Bondoukou - 4 villages ravaged by fire" the report demonstrated that villages continue to be decimated by bushfires caused by carelesness. The journal reported that 4,000 people living in these four villages were affected by the wildfire. All plantations in the vicinity of the villages were burnt. According to the official information the fire may have spread from a nearby field where a cooking fire was not extinguished.
Since the drought in 1983 the government is regarding bushfires and forest fires as a serious natural disaster. In that year wildfires destroyed more than 60,000 ha of forests and 108,000 ha coffee and cacao plantations. Between 1983 and 1994 wildfires destroyed homes of more than 70,000 people and killed 77 people.
Summarising the situation in Côte d'Ivoire at the begin of 1995 the General Secretary stated that during the period of 1 January to 20 February 1995 wildland fires caused 12 deaths, affecting 25 villages, eight of which were destroyed completely. A total of 218 ha plantations (coffee, cacao, cotton) were burnt as well as large numbers of houshold and farming goods. These numbers illustrate only the provisional figure during the first half of the dry season of 1995.
In the years after 1983 forest and bush fire control became an important priority of environmental protection policy of the government. In 1986 a National Committee of Forest Protection and Bush Fire Control was founded. The positions of the General Secretariat and the Presidency of the National Committee are filled by personnel of the Forest Service. These bodies coordinate the participation of 14 ministries involved in national programs.
The task of this committee is to raise awareness of the population of the damage caused by fires, the need for fire prevention and techniques for extinguishing them.
On the administration level 1,500 village committees, 57 local committees and 32 regional committees were created to decentralize the task of fire control during the last 10 years. These committees consist of elected members, a secretary and a president. The committees work to raise consciousness of the threats and inform the public about fire prevention. They are supported by the office of the Secretary General and the regional divisious in an advisory role. The office of the Secretary General and the regional divisions also play an important role in monitoring the current forest fire situation at national level.
The public is educated in the subject of forest fires using various media to reach the maximum number of people possible. The media used include roadside advertising, radio and TV advertising in a wide range of ethnic languages and the emission of educational films at the village level. Fire control and suppression techniques are demonstrated. A National Fire Prevention Day is being organized every year since 1991 in order to maintain public avareness. On these occasions fire control equipment is donated to village committees.
However, in spite of all these efforts uncontrolled fires still remain a problem because farmers, hunters or other groups utilizing fire are careless and forget to extinguish their fires. Surely there also exist always some pyromaniacs or travellers who simply cause fires by throwing away cigarette butts.
The main difficulties in fire control policy mentioned by the Secretary General are first of all inadequate financial support and a lack of exchange of experience.
Environmental protection in general and forest fire control in particular remain the preoccupation of the national government. But the mentionned structures and strategies come up against the financial problems. A better equipment, e.g. 4x4 cars, tools, medias etc., of the decentralized structures is necessary for efficient work.
The implementation of a five-year project elaborated by the national government would cost 1,600,000,000 FCFA (ca. 3.2 million US-$). Without the support of NGOs or other sources these finances can not be acquired. Exchange of experience with other countries in form of conferences, workshops etc. is considered to be very important for the problems of tropical forest protection and fire control.
The materials for this report were provided by the the General Secretary of the National Committee of Forest Protection and Bush Fire Control, Côte d'Ivoire, at the ITTO Expert Panel for Preparation of Guidelines for the Protection of Tropical Forests Against Fire (Jakarta, Indonesia, 6-10 March 1995 [see IFFN July 1995]). The materials were translated and summarized by Nicolo Kannenberg (IFFN Editor's Office).