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UNEP's executive director unveils short-term action plan to contain forest fires in Indonesia

Geneva, 21 April 1998 - Under the leadership of Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), fire-fighting experts from around the world have come up with an immediate, first short-term action plan to contain the forest fires still raging out of control in Indonesia's East Kalimantan province.

The plan, costed at US$10 million, covers the provision of equipment and training for 1,000 local fire-fighters, use of aircraft, operational management, communications and support to government liaison teams. It was agreed at the end of two days of meetings which brought together, for the first time, fire fighting experts, United Nations agencies, international organizations and the donor community in an effort to deal with the environmental and humanitarian crisis in South East Asia.

"The experts have given a clear message that it is not possible to fight all the fires, and that we must make priorities with regard to those that are threatening human health and areas rich in biological diversity," said Toepfer, who was appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Coordinator of the United Nations response to the fires.

The forest fire experts also looked at action to be taken in the medium to long-term, and brought their recommendations to meetings of international organizations and donors. They emphasized prevention - the need to do whatever is possible to stop the increasing spread of the fires, and also the need for effective organizational structures to deal with the problem.

The UNEP Executive Director, who chaired today's meetings of the international community, welcomed the positive response to the recommendations of the experts. "We have demonstrated that it is possible to confront the disaster in South East Asia in an effective and coordinated manner. This good cooperation must continue," he said.

The latest report of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) mission to Indonesia, which was presented to the Geneva meetings, estimates that over 250,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan have been razed by fires this year, and concludes that the situation is out of effective control.

"The message of the UNDAC team and the experts meeting here is clear - urgent practical action is needed, now," said Toepfer.
"This short-term action plan is a good start in this direction. It contains practical things that can be done in the next sixty days, but it can only be done if we are given the necessary resources to do the job. The challenge is loud and clear to the international community," he said.

For more information, please contact:
Robert Bisset, Media and Communications Officer,
UNEP Headquarters,
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi,
Tel.: 254-2-623084, Fax: 254-2-62-3692,

UNEP News Release 1998/19

Wednesday 22 Apr 1998
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