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Forest fires have serious economic and health consequences warns FAO

Forest fires have serious economic, health, and environmental consequences warns FAO

Forest fires have serious economic, health, and environmental consequences warns FAO
FAO press release
September 5, 2005

Fire is often used for clearing land for agriculture. As currently practiced, such burning is wasteful
and inefficient. Valuable wood goes up in smoke.

Large forest fires in South-East Asia, notably in Indonesia, have caused serious health and environmental problems, in particular choking haze in the region, FAO said today.

“Most of these fires are intentional and planned by agro-industrial companies to clear forests for agricultural land use,” said Mike Jurvelius, FAO forest fire expert.

“Using fire to clear forests is prohibited in most of the South-East Asian countries and the ban should urgently be enforced. Instead, tree and vegetation residues should be better utilized, or destroyed mechanically to protect human health and the environment,” Jurvelius said.

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  • A cheap way

    In South-East Asia, large-scale conversion of forests into agricultural land takes place mainly in flat areas with peat soils, the most productive land for agriculture. Land conversion is usually carried out by removing the trees and then burning the residues; a cheap way to clear land on a large scale.

    A particular problem in the region is that large amounts of smoke result from fires burning as much as 20 meters down in the peat soils. These fires are almost impossible to extinguish, regardless of how many airplanes or helicopters are used. On a single hectare of land, up to 100 000 cubic meters of peat soil can burn.

    “So long as people do not understand the dangers of using fires for land clearance on peat soils the fight against forest fires will be very costly and have only limited success,” Jurvelius added.

    Don’t burn, use machines

    The conversion of forests into agricultural land should follow established environmental practices, FAO said.

    Instead of burning forest residues, machines could be used for chipping wood and using it for compost, while precious wood could be used for wood products. Mechanical clearing of forest residues is more expensive but more environmentally-friendly.

    “There is a high demand for wood in the region; wood should therefore not be wasted or burned,” Jurvelius said.

    In close collaboration with governments, FAO has started to prepare voluntary guidelines for fire management and the provision of financial resources for forestry agencies. Regional and sub-regional cooperation agreements on fire management have helped to reduce the impact of fires.

    In the Eastern and Western Mediterranean region for example, countries have successfully cooperated across national borders in fire fighting. Five countries are currently assisting Portugal in extinguishing huge forest fires.

    The text above includes a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).


    Erwin Northoff
    News Coordinator
    (+39) 06 570 53105
    (+39) 348 25 23 616

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