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Southeast Asia Fire Danger Rating System Project

1.0 Background

For the last two decades, Southeast Asia has been experiencing a growing problem with severe vegetation and forest fires. The 1997/98 fire season was particularly devastating with over 4 million hectares of agricultural land and more than 4.5 million hectares of forests being affected. Most of the fires were set intentionally to clear forests and shrub lands for plantation crops like oil palm, for land preparation for small farmer agriculture, and for planting fast-growing trees for pulpwood production. The situation was complicated by the unusually dry weather conditions that occurred as a consequence of the El Niño cycle.

The recurring fires, along with the associated smoke and haze, were responsible for serious economic, environmental, and health consequences to the region:

  • Economic consequences: The losses caused by the 1997/98 fire season were estimated at over US$9 billion from the disruption of economic activity and from the value of the timber in commercial forests that was destroyed. Air traffic at many of the region's airports was paralyzed for weeks at a time.
  • Environmental consequences: Thousands of hectares of fragile, old growth forest ecosystems, containing some of the richest biodiversity in the world, were destroyed. Some of these forests were on peat lands that store enormous quantities of carbon, which was released into the atmosphere, contributing in some measure to global warming.
  • Health consequences: The increased smoke and particulate material released into the air as a result of the fires caused air pollution to soar, threatening people's health. There was a sharp rise in the number of people reporting coughs, lower respiratory problems, and bronchitis. The situation was particularly difficult for infants, older people, and people suffering from asthma or other respiratory illnesses. Schools and businesses had to be closed, transportation was disrupted, and people were advised to stay indoors.

2.0 Project Response

In response to this critical situation, the Canadian International Development Agency provided Canadian fire experts to provide advice and small amounts of fire equipment and training to the Indonesian authorities. Subsequently, in response to the Regional Haze Action Plan and support from the Indonesian government, a detailed project proposal was developed and accepted that provided for the development and application of a decision support system, the South East Asia Forest Fire Danger Rating System, in Indonesia and other fire prone countries in the region. A fire danger rating system acts as an early warning mechanism to predict the threat of serious forest fires and to help mitigate damage caused by fires.

Photo: Yus Rusila Noor

Subsequently, CIDA approached the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) of Natural Resources Canada through the Northern Forestry Centre (NoFC) to undertake the delivery of Canada's contribution to the initiative. The NoFC is one of the CFS forestry research centers, based in Edmonton. Its staff have been involved in forest fire research for over 80 years and developed the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System. FDRS systems adapted from the Canadian system have been in use in New Zealand, Alaska and other jurisdictions with success for some years.

3.0 Project Goal and Purpose

The goal of the Southeast Asia Fire Danger Rating System Project is to strengthen the environmental management capacity in the participating countries and to enhance regional cooperation in transboundary issues.

The specific purpose of the project is to enhance the capacity of resource management organizations in Southeast Asia to manage vegetation fires and the associated haze.

To achieve this goal and purpose, the project through its partners is developing, adapting and applying a fire danger rating system (FDRS) in the fire-prone areas of Southeast Asia, enhancing the vegetation fire information and management systems in the region, and enhancing the awareness and capacity of regional networks to provide early warning for anticipated fires and transboundary haze before they become serious.

4.0 Implementation Strategy

The project goal and purpose are being achieved by implementing a comprehensive program of technical cooperation to develop fire danger rating systems suitable for local conditions, and by strengthening regional capacities to coordinate, manage, and operate the systems. The systems will provide decision-makers with important, up-to-date information on land use, fire threat, and available human and material resources to respond.

The project implementation strategy consists of four inter-related components:

  • Adaptation: modification of the Canadian FDRS for conditions of the region and support to fire prediction, prevention, and mitigation.
  • Operation: technical assistance to, and capacity-building with, national and local institutions responsible for maintaining and operating the FDRS.
  • Application: capacity-building of national and local cooperating resource management agencies to understand and effectively use the FDRS information.
  • Regional systems: focused collaboration to strengthen technical development, coordination, management and integration of fire systems in the region.

The project has developed a system to continuously map risk indicators using meteorological data and by mapping fuel types using satellite imagery, vegetative cover information, and soil type maps. The system can also estimate the severity of haze, which allows countries to issue public warnings and implement precautionary measures.

What is the Fire
Danger Rating System?

The Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS) is a management tool to assist in the assessment of the risk of wildfires. It uses daily weather information and data on vegetation as a potential fuel to predict the risk of fires starting and spreading. The FDRS helps reduce fire and smoke damage by providing decision-makers with the information initiate and sustain fire prevention activities and to allocate resources and take the action required to suppress and control wildfires. It identifies those geographic areas and land-use activities where risk is the highest. The FDRS is based on the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System.

The initial geographic focus has been on Indonesia. The system now operates at the central or national level, with output produced on a daily basis. A pilot system is also operational in the province of West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo and another is under development in the province of Riau on the island of Sumatra. The system is also operational in peninsular Malaysia, with information provided on a daily basis, and is being extended to the states of Sabah and Sarawak. A complete description of the project implementation strategy and activities, reports, and FDRS maps can be found on the NFC project website (see

5.0 Partner Organizations

The Northern Forestry Centre of the Canadian Forest Service was chosen as the Canadian executing agency for the project. The regional institutions directly involved in project activities include the following:

  • ASEAN Regional Haze Action Plan Coordination Support Unit
  • Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), Jakarta (Indonesia)
  • the Indonesian Meteorology and Geophysics Agency
  • Indonesia Ministry of Forestry
  • Malaysia Centre for Remote Sensing, Kuala Lumpur
  • Malaysia Fire and Rescue Department
  • Malaysia Meteorological Service
  • Sabah Forestry Department, Sandakan (Sabah)
  • the University Putra Jaya Malaysia

Other institutional stakeholders include Malaysia Department of Forestry, Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board, Sarawak Timber Association, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, the Indonesia Space Agency (LAPAN), the Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions (APAFRI), and the Sub-regional Firefighting Arrangements for Sumatra and Borneo.

6.0 Duration and Budget

The project began on 3 November 1999 and will finish on 31 August 2004, a duration of 4.5 years.

The Canadian contribution to the project budget is Can$4.35 million. The contribution of regional partners includes Can$0.4 million from Indonesia and a similar amount from Malaysia.

7.0 Contribution to Sustainable Development

This project contributes to sustainable development in a number of ways:

  • It makes a direct contribution to achieving the development goals of CIDA's Asia Branch as well as the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in December 1998. The Asia Branch strives to promote poverty reduction and sustainable development through programs that address the needs for economic well-being of the people of the region, gender equality and social development, good governance of institutions, and sustainable management of ecosystems. It is particularly interested in building up local ownership, coordinating donors, achieving better coherence between aid and non-aid policies, establishing stronger partnerships, and emphasizing results.

Photo: Yus Rusila Noor

  • It contributes to environmental sustainability by providing an effective tool that allows local institutions to respond adequately to the threat of fires, which in turn reduces the destruction of the fragile tropical ecosystems and the rich biodiversity. Tropical forests have a special role in the conservation of biodiversity as they shelter the greatest diversity of plants and animals in the world. Of the estimated 30 million species thought to exist, 40 percent are found in tropical forests.
  • It helps in the battle against climate change, one of the most serious challenges to the environment, human health, and the global economy. Climate change is caused by the accumulation in the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which are released during forest fires, when fossil fuels are burned, and with some industrial activities. Therefore, controlling forest fires reduces the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Further, protecting forests from fire helps tip the balance in favor of growing forests, which are carbon sinks that sequester and store atmospheric carbon.
  • It allows certain environmental services to continue. For example, forested watersheds absorb and store rainwater only to gradually release it later, avoiding rapid fluctuations in stream and river levels and disastrous downstream flooding. Without this system in place, there is risk of water shortages and poor water quality that can cause major problems for irrigated agriculture and can pose health risks. Forests assist in soil conservation by providing a protective blanket against wind and water erosion. Sedimentation from denuded watersheds is also a major cause of habitat destruction for freshwater fish. Well-forested riparian margins along rivers and streams provide suitable habitat for freshwater fish to live and spawn and for the insect populations that they feed on.
  • By helping to manage and reduce forest and vegetation fires, it lessens the contamination of the atmosphere by smoke and particulate matter. This has obvious and direct positive impacts on human health and well-being. FDRS map for Southeast Asia.

Fire Danger Rating Map

If properly managed, the forests of the region can make a significant contribution to economic growth and development. Wood and paper products such as lumber, panels, and pulp and paper are important commodities of domestic consumption and international trade. They are used in the manufacture of a variety of value-added products such as furniture, doors and window frames, homes, and crafts. These industries are important sources of employment and income. Forests also provide non-wood products such as traditional medicines, plant and animal foods, building materials, and fibers that are important to rural people. A viable, dynamic forest sector can contribute in a variety of ways to the reduction of poverty, particularly in rural areas.

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Last Modified: 04/27/2004

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