News > Press releases > UNEP report highlights ...

Press releases

UNEP report highlights environmental impact of recent fire disasters

Nairobi, February 1999 - Over the past two years, many small- scale wildfires have quickly escalated into large-scale, uncontrolled disasters, with enormous environmental and human consequences, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). One of the report's most important findings is that the gaseous and particulate emissions from the 1997 fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia significantly exceeded the emissions from the Kuwaiti oil fires of 1991, another major environmental catastrophe of exceptional proportions.

Wildland Fires and the Environment: a Global Synthesis provides an overview of the causes, impacts and some potential means for the international community to respond to widespread forest and other wildfires. The report provides decision-makers and the general public with information on the environmental and health risks posed by the fires and the technology available for their possible control. It highlights the areas at risk, the means of detection, and monitoring and assessment capabilities.

Most of the fires analysed were set by local populations for land clearing. Many were also a consequence of extreme drought conditions related to the 1997 El Ni¤o phenomenon. These wildfires were reported daily on the front pages of the worlds' newspapers, as well as on international television and radio. Internet web sites also reported on the their daily and, in some cases, hourly progress.

Within the United Nations system, UNEP was asked to coordinate the international community's response to the forest fires emergency, initially in Indonesia, but also in Brazil and Central America. Extensive fires also occurred in Africa, Europe, Russia, China and the United States. Working very closely with the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), money for equipment, training and awareness raising was secured from many major donor countries, as well as the Global Environment Facility.

Media coverage of the extensive and widespread wildfires of 1997 and 1998 made the world aware of their environmental and human health impacts. In Southeast Asia alone, tens of millions of people were exposed to high levels of fire-produced gases and particulates for weeks at a time. The poor atmospheric visibility resulting from these fires was responsible for the crash of a commercial airplane and the collision of two ships. It will take years to measure the long-term adverse impacts on the region's biodiversity. In general, the report finds that most countries were not prepared to react to these fires. Economic costs stemming from all causes in the South East Asian fires has been estimated at $4 billion.

Gases produced by fire include carbon dioxide and methane which are greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Other gases are chemically active and lead to the photochemical production of ozone near the ground. Ground level ozone is an irritant and pollutant and has a negative impact on all living systems.

Fire also produces large amounts of particulate matter. These small solid particles absorb and scatter incoming solar radiation, and, hence, impact planetary climate systems. In addition, smoke particulates smaller than about 2.5 micrometers can easily enter the human respiratory system with resultant health problems.

Among the major priorities for UNEP is the development of an emergency response capacity and the strengthening of its early- warning and assessment functions, an issue being addressed at the ongoing UNEP Governing Council session, meeting this week in Nairobi.

Copies of the report are available from:

Ron Witt
Regional Coordinator
UNEP/DEIA&EW/GRID-Geneva
Geneva Executive Centre (GEC)
Chatelaine Chemin des Anemones
Geneva, Switzerland
Tel: +41-22 917 9294
Fax: +41-22 917 8029
e-mail: services@grid.unep.ch
http://www.grid.unep.ch

or
Dr. Ashbindu Singh
Regional Coordinator
UNEP Environmental Information, Assessment & Early Warning -North America
EROS Data Center
Sioux Falls, SD 57198, U.S.A.
Tel: 1-605-594-6107/6117/6105
Fax: 1-605-594-6119
Email:singh@edcmail.cr.usgs.gov
http://grid.cr.usgs.gov

 

ISBN: 92-807-1742-1

You may also order "Wildland Fires and the Environment: A Global Synthesis" by contacting SMI (Distribution Services) Limited - P.O. Box 119 Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 4TP England; Fax: +44 (1438) 748 844

UNEP Information Note 1999/3

INFORMATION - New Publication February 1999
New UNEP report analyses early warning of selected emerging environmental issues in Africa

Nairobi, February 1999
- A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): Early Warning of Selected Emerging Environmental Issues in Africa: Change and Correlation from a Geographic Perspective, identifies some of the emerging environmental issues facing Africa by critically examining the interconnected nature of population dynamics, land cover distribution, protected areas and transboundary water resources. Through regional case studies using modern information technology tools and geographically consistent data sets, the report assesses the impact the continent's population has on environmental protection processes and their potential for regional conflict or tension.

Some of the major findings of this study and suggested policy responses include:

 

  • About 63 per cent of the total land in Africa lies within transboundary river basins. Five of the major river basins (the Congo, Nile, Niger, Chad and Zambezi) occupy about 42 per cent of the geographical area and sustain over 44 per cent of the African population. These basins are characterized by growing scarcity of water, increasing population, degradation of shared freshwater ecosystems, and competing demand for the shrinking natural resource base. In the interest of sustainable development the riparian states should co-operate and develop collaborative infrastructures for the scientific management of their shared ecosystems.
  • Protected areas in Africa account for nearly 7 percent of the continent's 30 million km2, with about 16 percent of the population living within 20 km of the designated protected areas. Alarmingly, however, only 6 per cent of natural tropical forests rich in biodiversity are accorded official protected status, and the relatively ineffective implementation of, and resource allocation for, existing protection measures pose serious threats to biodiversity conservation efforts.
  • The presence of croplands in protected areas is an indication that legal designation alone is not sufficient for the protection of biodiversity in the face of human competition for the same land. Protected status must be accompanied by effective enforcement measures over the long term to ensure protection of biodiversity and endemic and endangered species. Additional resources should be made available to understand socio- economic factors associated with protection of biodiversity. The local stakeholders should be given economic incentives and a role in the conservation of biodiversity.
  • In addition, a shift in national and international policy and planning processes, based on targeting biodiversity-rich areas, is needed for enhanced and effective biodiversity protection and conservation. Geographic targeting and programmatic focus are both needed to conserve eco-regions rich in biodiversity and endemism and to address the socio-economic causes of encroachment and subsequent loss of biodiversity.
  • The conservation and management of biological resources that transcend political borders deserve greater attention. These biodiversity reserves located on multiple boundaries and administered under different and, at times, conflicting policies, present unique challenges. Only national authorities can take action for the preservation of protected areas under their jurisdiction, but transborder conservation requires cooperation from different sovereign states, regions, and even international organizations.
  • In the interest of developing an effective collaborative management system for the protected areas with multi-party jurisdiction, it is imperative that the contradictions in approach and conflicts of interest of the parties concerned be harmonized. Without negotiations, joint management, and enforcement strategies, such harmony will be difficult to attain. The absence of joint management mechanisms may also become a hurdle in enforcing international conventions.

In the foreword to the report, Dr. Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, concludes "The report conveys a sense of urgency about the need to develop suitable long-term strategies, attract investments and stimulate international cooperation to conserve biodiversity and freshwater resources. My hope is that the holistic view of these problems presented here will help policy makers to make realistic choices about meaningful environmental protection in Africa."

This new report is part of UNEP's efforts to strengthen its early

warning and assessment functions, an issue being addressed at the ongoing UNEP Governing Council session, meeting this week in Nairobi.

Copies of the report are available from:

Dr. Ashbindu Singh
Regional Coordinator
UNEP Environmental Information, Assessment & Early Warning -North America
EROS Data Center
Sioux Falls, SD 57198, U.S.A.
Tel: 1-605-594-6107/6117/6105
Fax: 1-605-594-6119
Email:singh@edcmail.cr.usgs.gov
http://grid.cr.usgs.gov

ISBN: 92-807-1743-X

The report: Early Warning of Selected Emerging Environmental Issues in Africa: Change and Correlation from a Geographic Perspective, is also available from SMI (Distribution Services) Limited - P.O. Box 119 Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 4TP England; Fax: +44 (1438 748 844.

UNEP Information Note 1999/4

Tuesday 02 Feb 1999
All (1051)
2014 (3)
2013 (13)
2012 (7)
2011 (29)
2010 (34)
2009 (54)
2008 (48)
2007 (31)
2006 (31)
2005 (38)
2004 (44)
2003 (85)
2002 (104)
2001 (114)
2000 (71)
1999 (143)
August (20)
July (8)
June (21)
May (5)
April (14)
March (12)
January (12)
1998 (119)
1997 (76)
1996 (7)