Strengthening of Forest Fire Management Capacities in Syunik


Pick-up truck outfitted with engine operated water pumps

The forests of Armenia have suffered from severe deforestation and degradation during the recent decades due to the socio-economic situation in the country. Climate change poses an additional threat for the forest ecosystems of Armenia – wildfires. The forecasted increase in temperature and further aridization of Armenia’s climate is leading to more frequent wildfires, which are additionally affecting the scarce forests of Armenia.

Early warning signs of the fire risks under climate change have been observed during the past decade in Armenia. The extremely dry and hot summer of 2010 translated into a severe wildfire season. The combined 852 hectare area burned by forest fires in 2010 was nearly nine-fold higher compared to the average of the previous four years.

The strengthening of the forest fire management capacities of responsible local stakeholders is a high priority for the UNDP, which is supporting the country’s efforts in improving the sustainability of forest management and introducing innovative approaches to adopt climate-smart forest management in the country. Although the need for improved management applies to the whole country, in the first instance the UNDP “Adaptation to climate change impacts in mountain forest ecosystems of Armenia,” project, funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), is focusing its efforts to pilot adaptive forest management measures, including fire management, in the south-eastern Syunik region, identified as the most vulnerable region of Armenia in terms of forest ecosystems.

At the local level forest fire fighting is primarily led by the forest management units. The efforts to fight fires are hampered gravely by the lack of adequate fire fighting tools suitable for the mountainous terrain. UNDP reinforced crucial early response capacities of local forces in the Syunik region by donating key pieces of forest fire early response equipment to “Kapan” and “Syunik” forest enterprises and “Arevik” National Park before the start of the high fire season in 2011.

Some Highlights

  • The combined 852 hectare area burned by forest fires in 2010 was nearly nine-fold higher compared to the average of the previous four years;
  • . UNDP reinforced crucial early response capacities of local forces in the Syunik region by donating key pieces of forest fire early response equipment to “Kapan” and “Syunik” forest enterprises and “Arevik” National Park before the start of the high fire season in 2011.

The activities targeting the strengthening of forest fire management capacities of responsible authorities are complemented by awareness raising activities in Syunik region. The campaign aiming to reduce uncontrolled agricultural waste burning has been complemented by the distribution of educational posters to communities. Also, signboards have been installed throughout the region in popular recreational areas warning of the risk of fire and informing of correct measures to be taken if a fire is detected. Over 400 teachers and students in Syunik and Yerevan have participated in the events on forest protection and fire prevention organized for them.

The increasing risks of forest and grassland fires, as well as the shortcomings of fire management, are recognized also by national stakeholders, who are showing strong national ownership in activities aiming to reverse the current negative trend. “This project is one of the most successful ones contributing greatly to the protection of the vulnerable forest resources of the country. The early warning capacities of the foresters and the capability to patrol and detect fires in the mountainous regions were significantly enhanced with the assistance of the UNDP/GEF project through the donation of pick-up trucks outfitted with engine operated water pumps, backpack pumps, horses, several types of hand tools and fire fighter uniforms to two forest management units in Syunik,” said Martun Matevosyan, Director of “Hayantar,” the responsible state body for forest management in Armenia.

Following the example of UNDP, the Armenian Rescue Service, under the Ministry of Emergency Situations, purchased one hundred similar backpack pumps for the fire and rescue detachments in Syunik, Lori, Tavush and Aragatsotn regions.

The UNDP activities coincide with the ongoing, parallel activities of other international organizations aiming to improve forest and grassland fire management in Armenia and the larger South-Caucasus region. To find synergies in fulfilling the objective to improve national wildfire management capacities, the UNDP teamed up with the Armenian Rescue Service and the OSCE Yerevan Office to organize a series of fire management events in 2011. As a result of the process, led by internationally renowned wildfire experts from the Global Fire Monitoring Center and the Macedonian and Turkish Academia, it was decided to initiate a process towards the establishment of National Task Force on Wildfire Management. “The implementation of coordinated steps by UNDP, the OSCE and stakeholder government organizations and state management bodies is highly appreciated and will contribute to the accumulation and targeted application of the forces and resources,” said Major-General Sergey Azaryan, Director of the Armenian Rescue Service.

A critical aspect of fire management is the identification and control of the causes of wildfires. As is the case globally, also in Armenia an overwhelming majority of 96 percent of wildfires are caused by humans. According to the data of the National Statistical Service of Armenia, uncontrolled burning of agricultural fields and pastureland accounted for 30 percent of fires between 2004 and 2009. To prevent this major cause of fires, UNDP initiated and provided support to the revision of related legislation. In September 2011, an amendment to the RA Law “On Protection of Atmospheric Air” was adopted by the National Assembly banning the burning of stubble, plant residues and dry vegetation areas, as well as the vegetation of pastures and meadows in forests, specially protected areas, and forest adjacent agricultural lands.

The fire management positive experiences and lessons learned are shared on UNDP’s knowledge sharing platform, the Adaptation Learning Mechanism (www.adaptationlearning.net), to enable the adaptation of forests to climate change globally.