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Wildfire Diplomacy

in association with
Radix:  Radical Interpretations of and Solutions for Disasters

Wildfire Disaster Diplomacy
(Suggested by John Anderson.)

A grass fire at the side of the road in Bulgaria near the border with Romania (2019).

A grass fire in Bulgaria near the border with Romania.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2019.)

  • Kadry, M. 1997. "Co-operation in the Mediterranean Area in Fire Disasters". Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters, vol. X, no. 2, pp. 67-75.

  • 2 January 2004. Ilan Kelman writes:

             Some lessons have emerged from wildfire disaster diplomacy, although none have been investigated in detail. Other than the most obvious example to date, Southeast Asia Regional Haze, plenty cross-border cooperation occurs in fighting fires in Canada and the U.S.A. and in southern Europe. I also believe that Australia at times uses foreign resources.
             Of course, these other examples are not necessarily the direct disaster diplomacy we usually consider, because enemy states are not exactly involved. They do, though, refer to the wider impacts and characteristics of disaster diplomacy in terms of disaster management crossing international borders and the possible implications. For example, when firefighters from different countries work together, does that improve the performance of both through exchange of ideas and techniques? Does it lay the groundwork for more efficient cooperation in other disasters, such as the 1998 ice storm or the 2001 World Trade Center collapse? Are advantages gained in pre-disaster activities such as preparation, prevention, and mitigation?
             If anyone could provide a list of examples--not necessarily comprehensive, but indicative--where firefighters did cross borders to assist with wildfire, I would be happy to post that here. Perhaps examples other than those I have mentioned appear from Africa, South America, eastern Europe, or elsewhere.

  • 2 January 2004. John Anderson writes:

             Looking back, during Southeast Asia Regional Haze, J.P. Jeanrenaud, then head of forestry for WWF-International, was quoted in Canberra as stating that there needs to be an international firefighting force made up of fire professionals from many nations, equipped and trained as for war; capable of going anywhere, anytime, to stop the burning.
             Unless leading nations become pro-active before the next El Niño, another spokesperson will be repeating Jeanrenaud during another ugly burning incident in some part of the world ill-equipped to handle it. This, in the face of recent pronouncements by NASA's Dr. James E. Hansen that soots cause as much as a quarter of all observed global warming. Haze produced more CO2 in a few short months than all the coal-fired power plants of Europe for an entire year.
             Across several multi-billion dollar estimates of damages for Southeast Asia Regional Haze, I never saw an estimate capturing damages to human health. One anecdote, however, hit me: Should one have gone outside in one of the major southeast Asian cities afflicted by the haze during the worst of it, this would have been the equivalent of smoking ten packages of cigarettes per day.
             The ASEAN plan to act in concert for ensuing haze emergencies is the first such plan of its kind. UNEP is very proud. ASEAN's plan should act as a model for like responses in regions likely to be beset by such disasters. While the wildland fire community is heading a global movement to collaborate across borders (see, for example, material from International Wildland Fire Summits and the Global Wildland Fire Network barriers remain.
             Significant East/West technology and capacity advantages will only be married when these barriers come down.

  • Matthew, S., M.S. Carroll, L.L. Higgins, P.J. Cohn, and J. Burchfield. 2006. "Community Wildfire Events as a Source of Social Conflict". Rural Sociology, vol. 71, no. 2, pp. 261-280.

  • Ramos, R. and C. Sanz. 2020. "Backing the Incumbent in Difficult Times: The Electoral Impact of Wildfires". Comparative Political Studies, vol. 53, no. 3-4, pp. 469-499.

  • Dinc, P., L. Eklund, A. Shahpurwala, A. Mansourian, A. Aturinde, and P. Pilesjö. 2021. "Fighting Insurgency, Ruining the Environment: the Case of Forest Fires in the Dersim Province of Turkey". Human Ecology, vol. 49, pp. 481-493.

  • Eklund, L., A.M. Abdi, A. Shahpurwala, and P. Dinc. 2021. "On the Geopolitics of Fire, Conflict and Land in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq". Remote Sensing, vol. 13, no. 8, article 1575.

  • Some initiatives on international fire cooperation:

A sign warning of the danger of fire at the entrance to the National Botanic Garden, Havana Cuba (2019).

Danger of fire in the National Botanic Garden, Havana Cuba.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2019.)

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