Forest fires on the Island of Sakhalin and the Khabarovsk Krai - UNDAC Mission report
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Summary Background to the Mission UNDAC Terms of Reference Sakhalin Overview Khabarovsk Krai Overview Response Operations Gaps and Constraints International Response and Cooperation Assistance Requirements
Means of Delivery of International Assistance Follow-up Acknowledgements
In the context of the devastating forest fires which have been affecting Russian Far East territories, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in cooperation with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), fielded a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team. The UNDAC Team has been working in close cooperation with the Russian Ministry of Emergencies (EMERCOM) and other relevant national bodies. The Team carried out on-site assessments in the fire-affected Island of Sakhalin and in the Khabarovsk Krai (Territory).
The UNDAC Team has arrived to the following basic conclusions:
The current fires represent a large scale emergency of international significance.
Forest fires caused by lightning are natural elements in the succession of northern boreal virgin forests. The concern is one of location and scale.
The physical casual agent in the current emergency situation has been an extensive period of drought. Authorities estimate that 15-30% of fires are started by lightning, with 70-85% the result of human unintentional activity such as dropping cigarettes etc.
Most significant impacts include potential climatic effects, transboundary effects, loss of important biodiversity, loss of economic potential of a natural resource and aggravation of the current economic crisis in Russia.
By concentrating on response rather than prevention and preparedness, the damage could become more significant and overall operations will be more expensive and less successful in the long term.
The underlying cause is financial and structural. In different resourcing circumstances it is likely that the fires would not constitute such large scale emergencies.
Fires occur on an annual basis in Russia and, unless the authorities can respond accordingly, it is likely that even more significant, potentially catastrophic, damage will be caused by forest fires in future years.
Few lives have been lost and only one settlement has been destroyed. This is largely due to effective fire-fighting under extremely difficult circumstances.
Those made homeless in Gorki are being cared for by the Sakhalin administration with support from central government.
There is no direct humanitarian assistance required from the international community.
Populations of major cities have been subjected to long term exposure to high levels of smoke pollution. The long term effects of exposure to such pollutants are not known at this stage.
Authorities have only been able to monitor carbon monoxide levels in relatively few areas and the broader distribution of exposure is not known.
Personnel in the regions are trained, experienced and able to identify necessary measures to cope with large scale fires. However, they are not adequately resourced to be able to implement effective prevention, preparedness and response strategies.
Early warning surveillance is absolutely crucial to identify fires when they are sufficiently small to be dealt with relatively easily. The problems arise when fires remain undetected for too long to be readily extinguished.
Satellite data is not sufficiently detailed for such early warning. Efficient and effective aerial surveillance is vital. Whilst such a service was available in the past, resource constraints have meant that the current capacity for aerial surveillance is seriously curtailed.
Ground forces are not adequately equipped to respond to the large scale and numerous fires that have occurred in recent years.
The lack of food, clothing, fuel, equipment and salaries is severely hampering the ability of authorities to respond appropriately. There is little remaining capacity to respond to this and any other disasters that may occur in the regions.
The root cause of these fundamental problems appears to be a combination of inadequate resourcing of regional authorities by central government, inability of regional authorities to clear year-end debts resulting from this situation, and late release of annual budgets in time for effective preparedness measures to be put in place prior to the fire season.
There are possible opportunities for improving coordination and cooperation between agencies operating on the ground; but any effective changes to operational management will rely on adequate resourcing.
If resourcing and management structures are not improved, the authorities must accept the potential for increasingly more comprehensive, expensive and destructive impacts of forest fires in future years.
Whilst these comments relate specifically to the situation as observed in Sakhalin and Khabarovsk, forest fires are of wider significance in the country and it is likely that the issues identified for the two areas visited will be relevant to other areas that experience forest fires.
There are potential significant impacts on global climate processes and the ozone layer. These still need to be elaborated.
The fires are at least as significant as those that have occurred in South East Asia and Latin America in recent years.
Given the nature of the affected area, it could take between 100-120 years for large forest areas to recover. This is the estimate used by the Federal Forest Service for replacement of felled areas and provides a reasonable benchmark against which to compare fire recovery. This time may be longer or shorter depending on specific site conditions and future management regimes.
The fires affect important habitats of rare and endangered species such as the Amur Tiger. Two Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance and two Zapovednik protected nature reserves are within the affected area. Unique landscapes are reported to have been lost.
There is potential for increased soil erosion, changes in the water balance in the affected area, pollution of watercourses and damage to hunting and salmon spawning grounds.
The area affected is dominated by high-grade boreal forests of considerable value.
Although the area is heavily forested, it produces relatively little timber. A programme for reform 1999-2005 is being presented to the Government this month by the Federal Forestry Service. This will address, inter alia, fire-fighting issues.
Logging companies have loaned fuel, equipment and personnel to the fire-fighting effort. If they are not repaid there is the potential to endanger their economic viability with subsequent financial and employment impacts. The crisis is deepened because forestry workers are being transferred to fire-fighting rather than their normal work.
The economic impacts will be significant to both Khabarovsk Krai and Sakhalin Island.
The remaining burned trunks are a problem ecologically, economically and industrially.
International assistance is required to respond to immediate shortfall in response capacity caused by this large-scale emergency, and to provide resources to assist in preventing a repetition of the disaster next year.
The main issues that must be addressed are primarily the responsibility of national and regional government. It is highly unlikely that the international community would be prepared to pay off debts that should be the responsibility of the national government.
It is suggested that donors may consider provision of cash or in-kind contributions to specific resourcing projects in three broad areas:
Early warning (support to aerial and ground surveillance)
Fire-fighting equipment for mobile teams including back-packs, hoses, pumps, spare parts, tents, clothing for fire-fighters etc.
Forest Fires in Russia
Many areas in Russia suffer from forest fires every year; the number of fires and area burned varies from year to year depending primarily on climatic conditions.
The number varies from 12,000 to 30,000 fires per annum according to the Russian Federal Forestry Service (FFS). In 1996 across Russia, there were recorded 29,700 fires which burned some 1.86 million hectares (ha). In contrast, in 1987 there were only 13,400 fires affecting an area of 569,000 hectares.
A review of investment potential for the Khabarovsk Krai notes that, on average, 700-800 forest fires occur annually. It reports that in the last twenty years up to the end of 1997 there were 15,070 fires reported in the krai. The area affected to that point was recorded as being 2.33 million hectares.
Forest fires are not just natural, they are an essential ingredient in the succession of virgin boreal forests. UNEP notes that up to half a percent of natural forest could burn every year following their natural succession pattern, and only fires exceeding this threshold would constitute a problem. This is primarily for fires started by natural causes such as lightning strikes.
Anthropogenic fires, whether accidental or deliberate, can cause further problems. In the case of the Russian Far East Region, the FFS estimate that 15-30% of all recent fires are of natural cause, whereas 70-85% were caused by human activity. There was no implication that these fires were started deliberately, but that the current economic situation in Russia has driven many more people to use the forest margins for hunting, fishing, mushroom, berry and fruit picking, and that the non-experienced hunters could have started some fires through careless disposal of cigarettes, broken glass acting as a lens to concentrate the suns rays, cooking fires getting out of control, etc.
Areas of Concern
This year, massive fires were reported in the Far East Region of Russia (the Island of Sakhalin and the Khabarovsk Krai), affecting large areas of high-quality woodland, threatening human settlements and strategic installations and damaging high-value ecological habitat.
Forest fires are not new to the region but the severity of the drought and the Russian economic crisis have exhausted the firefighters and limited their means to combat the fires.
Satellite imagery in September 1998, clearly showed that the number of fires was rapidly increasing in the Russian Far East. A close view from NOAA/AVHRR-14 demonstrated large areas affected by the fires. The territory covered by smoke, as recorded by NASA/TOMS, was growing and the blaze continued to spread.
After reports appeared about the size, scale and potential international consequences of the fires in the Russian Far East, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs offered the services to the Russian Government. EMERCOM accepted the offer of an UNDAC assessment mission at the end of September 1998, and a team of experts was dispatched to review the situation and the potential implications for the international community with a view to assisting in identifying the need for international assistance. The UNDAC timetable and list of contacts made are in Annex 1.
The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team was to ensure close links between country-level and international relief efforts following large-scale forest fires in eastern parts of the Russian Federation. It was requested to assist in meeting international needs for early and qualified information on the situation and, if necessary, in the coordination of international assistance.
The UNDAC Team had the following major tasks:
1. work in close cooperation with, and provide support to the Russian Ministry of Emergencies (EMERCOM) and other relevant national/regional/local authorities;
2. maintain appropriate links with the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Moscow;
3. assess the impact of the fires in situ (Sakhalin island and, if necessary, Khabarovsk region) including damage to population, infrastructure and environment;
4. collect information, relevant to the international community, on the national emergency relief efforts;
5. obtain information on major difficulties and obstacles facing national response actions;
6. evaluate needs for complementary international assistance, also in the light of ongoing national relief activities;
7. provide an input, if needed, in the preparation of an appeal for immediate international assistance;
8. make inputs, as required, in the preparation of OCHA Situation reports on this emergency, to be distributed to disaster relief organizations and the international community;
9. prepare, at the end of the mission or immediately after, a mission report with appropriate recommendations;
10. maintain links with and report on the progress of its mission to the Disaster Response Branch of OCHA-Geneva throughout the duration of its mission.
Composition of the Team:
Mr. Vladimir Sakharov, Head of the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, Disaster Response Branch, OCHA, Geneva
Mr. Gerard Le Claire, Director of the Environment Department, Jersey, United Kingdom
Mr. Jesper Lund, fire fighting expert, Denmark
Mr. Arsen Faradjev, emergency expert, Ministry of Emergencies, Russian Federation
Associated Team members
Mr. Sipi Jaakkola, Senior Programme Officer, Regional Office for Europe, UNEP, Geneva
Mr. Peter Paul, fire fighting expert, Fire Department of Munich, Germany.
The Island of Sakhalin, off the east coast of Russia, is the largest island in the Russian Federation with population of around 620 thousand people. Its area is about 76 thousand sq. km.
The area under the control of the FFS is 6.9 million ha, with 78.7% of this area being forested. Coniferous forest cover an area of 3.7 million ha.
Forest Fires 1998
The fires started in May 1998. In June, 67 fires affected more than 8,000 ha and 55 of these were extinguished. In July, 71 fires were registered and 29 were controlled by the authorities. In August, 139 fires were reported, damaging more than 30,000 ha. 113 fires were successfully tackled. In September, 112 fires affected almost 34,000 ha and as of 3 October, 38 fires remained, spread over about 30,000 ha. Overall, this year has seen the most fires started - 333 - since records began in 1949.
Both forest and peat areas have been affected in Sakhalin. With high winds, flames have spread rapidly across the crowns of the trees, jumping across firebreaks on occasion. In forestry terms, although in some areas the trunks are still standing, the roots are often dead because the fire has been reported by the Federal Forestry Service to be burning deep into the soil.
On Sakhalin, some 100,000 hectares are reported as being damaged by the fires. In the badly-hit district of Tymovskoye, visited by the UNDAC team, forestry officials reported that of 61,000 hectares (ha) in the area, some 37,000 ha are reported to have been burned. Of this amount, 21,000 ha were forested. As of 5th October nine fires continued to burn in the district, covering some 16,000 ha.
The UNDAC team visited the village of Gorki, 30km north of Tymovskoye, which was destroyed by the fire on 20th September. 598 people were made homeless and are now in temporary accommodation on the island. Flames spread across the crowns of the forest and struck the village at around 16.30. In a few hours the village was gone. The fire reportedly spread so quickly in the strong winds that people had no time to collect belongings and the disaster site is strewn with personal belongings. Because most people had worked for an enterprise which had recently gone bankrupt, money was in short supply and belongings were generally not insured.
Twelve other settlements were threatened by fire but have successfully defended. Although the situation has improved as weather conditions have become colder and wetter, children have had to be evacuated temporarily when calm conditions and high levels of smoke made breathing very difficult.
The Administration also reported that in several areas oil wells were shut down and sealed before the fires reached them.
Authorities are concerned about what can be done about the large areas of sterilized forest area. Access to remote sites is difficult and expensive and restoration work for damaged timber resources will be extremely expensive. This is worsened in the case of Sakhalin because they rely almost entirely on foreign exports to the South and East Asia region. Given the recent economic crisis in the region, prices and demands have fallen, placing increased pressure on the islands export potential.
Ecological impacts are likely to be significant also. Initial reports from the Regional Chairman of the State Committee on Environment Protection suggest that up to 50% of ground-nesting birds including game birds have been killed by the fires, 10-20% of mammal species in the area have been killed and three Red Data Book species including two eagle species have been severely affected.
The regional representatives of the State Committee on Environment Protection are compiling a detailed report into the ecological effects of the fires.
FFS authorities in Sakhalin estimate that the fires have caused approximately 670 million roubles worth of damage to the forestry industry. This figure includes expenditure for fire fighting and reforestation of burned areas.
At the national level, the Russian Ministry of Emergencies (EMERCOM) and the Federal Forestry Service are playing key roles in supporting local operations. The Government has made 10 million Roubles available to Sakhalin to help cover expenses.
The Governor of Sakhalin is in overall charge of coordination in the region, with the Deputy Governor being the Chairman of the Regional Emergency Committee. Regular emergency update meetings are held with representatives from the Federal Forestry Service, Fire Service, EMERCOM, Migration Department, Health and Social Services, State Committee on Environment Protection, and other representatives.
There are two sets of fire fighters; the Federal Forestry Service fire-fighters have concentrated on making fire-breaks and tackling the fires within the forest areas, whereas the municipal Fire Service have concentrated on protecting settlements. It appears that there are two separate chains of command.
Response has been a combination of ground and aerial attack. The ground response teams, made up of firefighters from local Forestry Service and Fire Brigades, have been attempting to protect settlements from the spread of fire. The Governor of Sakhalin highlighted that some 1000 personnel, backed up with 140 units of special equipment such as bulldozers, a fire fighting train, had been committed to the emergency. Ground forces have been cutting fire breaks to prevent spread as much as possible. Dozens of volunteers have joined the firefighters.
The fires are most fierce in mountainous, remote zones that are difficult to reach. Dense smoke is frustrating the fire-fighting operation.
Two EMERCOM IL-76 water bombers made six sorties, dropping more than 250 tones of water on fire areas. In addition, light helicopters belonging to EMERCOM and local companies based in Sakhalin have been used for water drops. The helicopters were reportedly quite successful in providing local support for threatened villages. This approach, although effective, is very expensive and used sparingly.
Response efforts are being assisted by satellite coverage of the sites, with the data being made available to the Federal Forestry Service on a daily basis.
Locals have been forbidden to go near forest areas that have been declared under a state of emergency, and local police have been ordered to patrol the forests' major points of entry.
A collection of charitable donations for victims left homeless by the fires has been organized by the region's Social Protection Fund.
Assistance to the Affected Population
For the 598 people displaced from Gorki, the following arrangements have been made and agreed by the Government in Moscow:
Each family will receive a Resettlement Certificate enabling them to relocate, if required, to any part of Russia expect Moscow, St Petersburg and Krasnoyarsk. Certificates will be available soon according to the Governor.
In the meantime, families have been temporarily housed in several sites including in student accommodation in the district capital of Tymovskoye. Families are being provided with free food and medical attention. Clothes have been made available from local donations.
Each person will receive 30,000 Roubles from the Government. This is in addition to the 830 Roubles per person already paid from the Regional budget. 50,000 Roubles has been collected from other local sources.
The village of Gorki is now off-limits and checkpoints prevent people entering the site.
The fires are still burning and causing damage, but unless weather conditions become hot and dry again, it is likely that the worst is over for Sakhalin. However, the following issues will need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months:
- rehabilitation and support for the displaced population of Gorki, especially important given the imminent onset of winter;
- restoration of damaged forest resources;
- detailed examination of ecological impacts;
- lessons learned for incorporation into future prevention and preparedness planning.
KHABAROVSK KRAI OVERVIEW
The Khabarovsk Krai, in the Far East region of Russia, is one of the largest administrative territories in the Federation. It is some 788.6 sq km and stretches 1800 km from north to south and varies in width from 125km-750km. Population density is very low, averaging 2.0 persons per square kilometer with a total population of about 1.6 million.
The Russian Federal Forestry Service (FFS) reports that forests cover some 52.5 million hectares with nearly 90% being potentially exploitable. The area is more than 6000 km from Moscow.
There are more than 120,000 rivers in the krai, the most significant being the Amur which is one of the longest rivers in the country. There are also some 55,000 lakes both large and small. Seventy five per cent of the region is mountainous and high plateaux and is classified as having a monsoon climate under normal conditions, with a cold winter (-40C) and a hot, humid summer (20C).
Forest Fires 1998
The krai is divided into three forest zones - South, Central and North. The South, including the cities of Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and the Centre have been the focus of fire-fighting operations. However, most of the worst fires have occurred in the Central and Northern area. The Northern zone is drier and have not received any precipitation for over four months. It is also extremely remote, with few roads and a very small population that relies on hunting. Khabarovsk forestry review is in Annex II.
Official statistics suggest that "fire years" happen regularly. Large scale fires were registered in 1954, 1976 and 1998 (i.e. a 22 year period), while somewhat smaller fires occurred in 1968, 1978 and 1988 (a ten year period). However, there is no guarantee that conditions might not occur next year that could be just as difficult as 1998.
Since the beginning of 1998 some 1028 individual fires have been reported. Emergency workers have been able to tackle most of them, but not without significant difficulty and expense. A State of Emergency was declared on 17th July. At the height of the emergency, eighteen enormous fires were registered, each one affecting between 20,000 - 35,000 ha. At one point, the authorities were trying to deal with 94 fires simultaneously. As of 9th October, 941 fires were successfully tackled.
Authorities estimate that up to 85% of fires are caused by members of the public who have been forced by the economic situation in the country to forage more deeply in the wood areas for hunting, fishing and collection of forest products such as mushrooms. Possible causes include dropping of cigarettes, cooking fires etc. There is no suggestion of malicious fire-starting. Hunters report that it is extremely unlikely that hunters are to blame given their experience, training and reliance on the environment but that city dwellers forced into more foraging might not be as aware of the dangers. The remaining 15% of fires is thought to be from lightning strikes.
The krai Emergency Operations Centre reported that as of 9th October, there were still 57 active fires in the krai, burning over 407,053 ha. Therefore, each remaining fire has an average size of over 7,000 ha. The remaining fires are concentrated in five out of the seventeen regions in the krai - Komsomolsk, Solnechny, Ulchsky, Nikolayevsk and Nanay. Nikolayevsk region was the most damaged and from mid July aerial surveillance had to be stopped because the smoke was too bad for airborne operations.
The Team has concluded that the Russian Far East is facing a large-scale emergency of international significance, caused by massive, uncontrolled forest fires. The Russian central and regional/local authorities normally refer to this disaster as a global ecological catastrophy.
Total area burned by fires up to now in both Khabarovsk Krai (Territory) and Sakhalin Island is about 2 million hectares (ha). It is comparable to areas affected during recent fires in Indonesia and Brazil. This disaster has brought enormous damage to the environment and various sectors of the Russian economy. The Russian Far East has already lost around 15 million cubic meters of timber as a result of the on-going fires. Annual timber production in Khabarovsk Krai (one of most important in Russia) is some 4,5 million cubic meters. Huge territories are totally destroyed, from an environmental perspective.
When the UNDAC Team was in Khabarovsk (6-9 October), winds removed smoke from the city. On 14 October, the Russian radio and television announced that the city of Khabarovsk was again totally covered by smoke. As a consequence, the international airport and the key river port were closed.
A relatively large proportion of the population of the krai are of aborigine origin and make a living from the land ( e.g. in Nanay region some 17% of the population); they rely heavily on hunting and fishing. 25 indigenous nations (some 19 thousand people) have reportedly been affected, as a result of a serious damage caused by fires to their natural habitat, and a large-scale destruction of hunting and game stock representing their food basis.
Long-term negative effects on human health may be important. It is likely that over 1 million people have been affected during significant periods of time by smoke (containing small particulate matters) and carbon monoxide (CO).
Health will have suffered to some extent by large urban areas being polluted by choking smoke from the fires. The Russian Ministry of Emergencies (EMERCOM) reports that there are five large cities in the krai with a total population of some 1,600,000. The city of Khabarovsk has a population of over 600,000 and Komsomolsk-on-Amur has over 300,000. These cities were both affected by high pollution levels. The Regional Sanitation and Epidemiological authorities report that levels of carbon monoxide reached between 3-13 times the Maximum Permissible Concentration (MPC) over a period of weeks, with occasional levels reaching as high as 24 times the MPC. Although no evacuations were ordered, contingency plans were developed in case the situation had not improved. In the event, these plans were not required to be implemented.
There were only approximately 100 recorded cases of severe reaction to the smoke, mainly for those suffering from chronic respiratory illness. However, there is no information available as to the potential long term effects of extended periods of exposure to high levels of fire smoke for hundreds of thousands of people.
Environmental implications include potential effects on global climate processes and the ozone layer, transboundary pollution, biodiversity and resource management for air, water and soil.
a. Climate Implications
It is too early to be able to predict the full implications of the fires, but having such enormous areas burning for so long will almost certainly have some impacts that could be felt at the global level. There is potential for implications on global warming through the release of carbon dioxide, climate alterations through the massive heat output and potential implications on the ozone layer.
According to Russian scientists, huge forest fires blazing for several months in the Russian Far East would contribute to global warming. Instead of absorbing the carbon dioxide, the burning forests are emitting the gas. The Russian State Committee for Environment and the Ecological Centre of the Russian Scientific Academy have noted that the emission into the air of several tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide could cause a greenhouse effect which would contribute to global warming.
The Far East Regional Institute of Forestry Management (part of the FFS) is suggesting that the smoke and high temperatures could have had a part to play in preventing the normal cyclones that should have arrived in the region. As such, the possible implication is that the recent heavy rain and flooding in neighboring China might have exacerbated because the rain that would have been spread across the whole of the Far East was restricted and fell in a limited area with catastrophic impacts. This hypothesis has not been investigated in sufficient depth as yet.
The FFS report that the smoke spread over a vast territory, reaching as far west as the Baikal region and Yakutia, where significant air pollution and a drop in photosynthetic activity was recorded. Although these sites are in Russia, they provide an indication of the distances that the pollution from the smoke can spread. Regional authorities estimate that in total, some 100 million ha suffered from some impact on biological processes. This in turn leads to a reduction in the carbon-fixing potential. FFS sources report that some 900,000 ha completely lost this capacity and as a direct result of the fires, around 30 million tones of carbon was released into the atmosphere over a short period of time.
b. Transboundary Pollution
The fires in South East Asia caused great international concern because the smoke from them affected nearby cities. These fires are just as significant, but the majority of the pollution has drifted over the sea following dominant winds, or else over scarcely populated areas.
c. Biodiversity Impacts
It is recognized that forest fires are a natural and important part of ecological succession in boreal forests. Therefore, fires in themselves are both natural and necessary. However, it is the scale of the current fires that could cause grave ecological impacts.
Forest fires of such a scale fall in the category of world-wide ecological disasters," said the experts, who have already applied for international aid to check the damage caused by the fires. They bear consequences not only for the ecosystem of frontier countries with Russia, but also for a large part of the northern hemisphere.
The area is extremely rich in biodiversity and includes numerous reserves and two Ramsar Sites at Lakes Bolon and Oudyl are registered under the Ramsar Convention on Internationally Important Wetlands. The affected area is also the habitat of several internationally endangered species registered under the IUCN Red Book, species protected under the CITES Convention (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species), the Russian Red Book on Endangered Species and includes the rare and endangered Amur Tiger. The fires have largely destroyed habitat and also affected the tigers main prey species the wild boar.
It is too early to say with any degree of confidence what the exact ecological impacts will be in the short and long term. However, the experience of other areas affected by such disasters can provide a clue to the potential implications.
Although the main nesting season was over by the height of the fires, apart from direct damage to habitat, food chain and individual species loss, the State Committee for Environment is concerned about the potential impacts on birds caused by early forced migration, changing migration pattern and the possible weakening of bird stocks as a result. Concern has been expressed that over wide areas, the fires will lead to a reduction in biological diversity and simplified species composition as opportunistic species re-colonize at the expense of other species.
The rivers system might also be affected by pollution from the fires. The river system, recognized as an Internationally Important Wetland under the Ramsar Convention, contains some 130 species of fish including commercial species such as Salmon and Sturgeon. Concern was expressed by the Committee on the Environment that the loss of tree cover will affect the temperatures of small rivers and lakes which were shaded by the forest. As a result, there could be a change in invertebrate populations with knock-on effects further up the food chain.
Some landscapes which have been recognized as Natural Monuments have also been lost.
d. Resource Management Impacts
The hunting industry has also been affected; the regional hunting authorities have tentatively estimated that an additional 2,700,000 roubles (USD 180,000) of damage has been caused to hunting and game stock. This does not include damage to the food base but covers impacts on such vital local species as sable, deer and squirrel.
Soil resources have also been damaged. The fires have been burning deep into soils and will have killed off large amounts of soil fauna and flora, effectively sterilizing large areas. Recovery may take a considerable amount of time in the harsh taiga environment.
Furthermore, the loss of vegetation cover on mountain terrain will lead to increased soil erosion and reduction in soil quantity and quality and downslope contamination and blocking of water courses.
Water resources will also be affected. In the high mountain areas some small creeks and lakes will disappear. Others will be blocked by falling tree trunks and fire debris. Virtually all the Water Protection Zones along the rivers were burned down. These are enforced by law to ensure the water balance is maintained. Along the Amur a width of at least 1km of forest is required on each bank, while the minimum size on all rivers is 25m of forest on both banks. The removal of this forest zone will lead to increased water runoff, increased erosion and possible increased downstream flooding.
As winter arrives, ash will be brought down the rivers. This could have direct impacts on the vital salmon breeding streams in the region. The Amur river system is a very important habitat for commercial salmon and caviar production. The fisheries industry is third in economic terms to timber and mineral processing in the krai.
The pollution of the river by fire debris could prevent the salmon from returning to usual spawning grounds. This impact will be felt for several years and Fisheries authorities in the region are estimating damage to the salmon industry worth some 9 million roubles (USD 600,000) each year for the next 3-6 years.
e. Economy and Forestry
The Far East Regional Centre of EMERCOM in Khabarovsk reported that initial estimates of economic damage amount to some 400 million roubles (USD 27 million). Some 79.2 million roubles (USD 5.3 million) has been spent directly on fire-fighting.
Khabarovsk was reported as being one of the most important areas for forestry in the entire country; furthermore, the areas affected by the fires are among the most important areas in the krai for the industry. Subsequently, the fires have had and will continue to have a major impact on the industry and the local economy.
There are several key elements. The industry is already in the process of being re-structured to make it more efficient. The Maximum Allowable Cut is 21 million cubic meters of timber per annum, yet last year they only managed to extract 4.5 million cubic meters. Therefore, there is something basically inefficient with the industry that needs to be adjusted to make the most of the sustainable yield of the resource. Plans were being drawn-up to take the industry into the next century before the fires struck.
In addition, the market for timber in the Far East has been depressed following the general economic problems in the region. Prices have therefore been depressed.
Therefore, the industry was already in a position of relative weakness before the fires made the situation worse.
The area affected has included some of the most valuable stands of timber. It has not just been low grade areas that have been affected. The latest estimates is that some 15 million cubic meters of high quality timber has been lost.
The logging companies that helped with the fire-fighting have not been able to carry out their normal work; therefore production has slowed. In Komsomolsk-on-Amur region, officials estimate that the timber industry has lost more than 15 million roubles (USD 1 million) in potential work because of having to shift resources to fire-fighting.
The logging companies provided access to fuel, equipment and personnel, apparently on the understanding that the authorities would be in a position to re-imburse them in due course. It now appears that unless circumstances change, there will be no such re-imbursement forthcoming. This will inevitably place an additional strain of companies already being affected by general difficult economic conditions. There is the threat of companies failing, with knock-on impacts on the local workforce and economy.
Forests damaged by fire will take at least 100 years to re-establish, especially compared with tropical forests which grow much faster than the boreal taiga forests of eastern Russia. Therefore, the economic impacts will be felt for a significantly long time.
For example, the FFS report that some 300,000 ha which were burned in 1976 have not yet recovered. These areas in turn provided good areas for fires to spread quickly, making a bad situation worse.
Regional authorities are leading the response to the disaster. The Emergency Committee includes relevant agencies such as the regional offices of the Federal Forestry Service (FFS), EMERCOM, State Committee on Environment and the Khabarovsk Administration. The Committee is chaired by a Vice-Governor of the krai and secretariat support is provided by krai representatives of EMERCOM, backed up by the resources of the Far East Regional Centre of EMERCOM which is based in Khabarovsk. An Emergency Operations Room, manned by officers and support staff from EMERCOM, provides 24-hour coverage of the emergency and prepares reports and options for the Emergency Committee.
Sub-groups have been established as required in affected settlements to ensure efficient decision-making. A network of officials throughout the region assisted in spreading messages to advise the public how to respond to smoke pollution. The media was also used extensively to get advice to the public.
At the operational forest fire-fighting level, control is vested in the Far East Forest Protection Air Base of the Aerial Forest Fire Service of the FFS. This organization has helicopters, aircraft and smokejumper personnel at their service. They co-ordinate the aerial fire spotting, initial attack and direct ground resources to ensure an integrated approach to the fires.
Fire-fighters come from several sources - from EMERCOM 120 personnel and 25 items of heavy equipment organized into three Emergency Mobile Teams to protect settlements and strategic infrastructure such as military installations and oil pipelines from the fire, FFS Forest Management personnel are involved in direct forest fire-fighting and fire break creation, FFS Forest Protection Air Base aircraft and personnel including smokejumpers, the Ministry of Defence has provided 360 personnel, and 96 items of machinery and fire brigades under the Ministry of Interior comprising 220 personnel and 25 items of machinery have been instrumental in protecting settlements. Logging companies have loaned equipment and personnel to assist.
Other regions have provided 180 smokejumpers, 2 helicopters and 2 AN-24 aircraft. As of 9th October 1141 personnel, 241 items of heavy machinery, 2 helicopters and 2 aircraft were employed full-time on fire-fighting.
Priorities for protection include settlements, strategic installations, high-value timber and recreational areas.
The Government of the Russian Federation is taking steps to provide assistance to the Administration of the Far East Region in coping with the fire disaster. When the Governor of Khabarovsk appealed to the Government in Moscow, an Inter-Agency Committee was established under the Minister of EMERCOM. The Committee agreed to release the following items to support the local administration:
1.5 million roubles, 5 excavators, 5 cranes, 10 lorries, 5 bulldozers, 1200 tones of aviation fuel, 650 tones of diesel, 450 tones of gasoline, 10,000 cans of meat, 10,000 cans of fish, 60,000 tones of flour, 20,000 tones of sugar and 5000 cans of milk. These items were all released from the Central State Reserve.
The FFS receive daily satellite information from NOAA satellites. This allows some level of monitoring the situation across a wide area. In addition, lightening-strike monitoring equipment is used by the Far East Forest Protection Air Base to check on the potential of natural fire starting.
During the height of the emergency, Carbon Monoxide levels were monitored in major towns, and free oxygen supplies provided in medical centers and hospitals.
The fires continue to burn extensively; however, with the onset of winter it is likely that the worst of the situation is over and that control will be established over all fires by the end of the year. However, there is no guarantee that next year will not provide the same conditions for fire. The response capacity of the authorities is exhausted and will not be able to cope with any further demands made upon it.
After fighting the fires for many months without adequate resources, the response infrastructure including personnel and equipment is extremely stretched. Manpower is suffering from long periods of emergency commitment; equipment cannot be repaired or replaced sufficiently to ensure an appropriate response to any further emergencies that might arise. Many staff have not been paid for months. In addition, there is reported shortages of food, clothing and shelter for emergency workers. Provisions from the Federal Government in August have now been exhausted.
The economic consequences of the fires will be felt for many years; the forestry industry is already weakened and unless equipment and fuel borrowed by the authorities is reimbursed, the companies will both be further weakened themselves and also be less inclined to assist local authorities in future times of need.
The personnel dealing with the emergency in both Sakhalin and Khabarovsk appear to be dedicated, well trained, highly experienced professionals who know exactly how to cope with forest fires of enormous proportions. They are attempting to do their job in appalling conditions of deprivation.
All official sources have consistently identified resourcing issues as being at the heart of the problem. This is the defining difference with other similar fires in the past. Although conditions for fires have been reported as being the worst for 25 years, in the past the authorities were able to respond effectively to deal with the fires. For example, FFS officials reported that in 1988 they had four times as many resources at their disposal and lost about 300,000 ha in very similar conditions. In 1998, some 2 million ha have been lost.
The crux of the problem appears to be the current inability to carry out effective early-warning and initial response surveillance patrols that could detect fires when they were still small enough to be dealt with by limited means. As a result of the patrols being cut, fires have been able to grow much larger before they could be detected. For example, the Far East Forest Protection Air Base in Khabarovsk operated 60 AN-24 aircraft in 1988, this year only 8 are serviceable and able to be fuelled. In 1988, up to three patrols a day were possible; this year once a week was often all that could be afforded. No aerial surveillance was possible at all in the North forestry district.
This aerial surveillance is seen as being extremely important; the large areas involved, the remoteness of the sites and the fact that only some 20% of the territory can be accessed by road means that aerial support is vital. In some ways it appears that the Aerial Fire Fighters have suffered more than most; their service is obviously expensive and reliant on high quality, serviceable equipment. In addition, they are so specialized that they have few opportunities for supplementing their income whereas the FFS Forest Management Division could partially supplement their income with actual timber production and sale.
Satellite monitoring equipment is available and the FFS have access to the NOAA satellite data. However, whilst this is useful for monitoring broad-scale distribution of fires, it cannot help in early warning and detecting small fires because the pixel size is reported to be some 120 ha, whereas a resolution of 1 ha would be needed for useful preventative work. Therefore, it is perceived that aerial surveillance capacity is still required.
Because the early-warning preventive capacity has been so badly affected, the emphasis has shifted to response activities. However, the resources available to accomplish this are also inadequate. E.g. in 1988 some 500 heavy bulldozers were available for use; in 1998 only 150 were available. Also, trying to mobilize urban-based fire brigades to operate in forest areas was difficult because urban fire trucks are not built to operate in very rough mountainous terrain.
Officials also report that, in the past, it was possible to redistribute manpower between territories to enable a flexible response. In 1988 some 850 fire-fighters were supplemented by 750 support fire-fighters from other areas. This year only 240 trained fire-fighters were available and only 180 were able to be afforded from other areas. The authorities in Khabarovsk could have received more outside staff, but could not afford to feed and clothe them.
Therefore, with both early-warning and response capacities curtailed, it is inevitable that emergencies will get more dangerous, more expensive and more damaging to environment, economy and human health.
In addition, the equipment available has been reported as being insufficient in number, not adequately maintained and with fuel costs relatively high, very expensive to operate. This covers aircraft, ground equipment such as bulldozers and command equipment such as telecommunications. There is also a shortage of food and clothing for fire-fighters, and with winter approaching there will also be shortages of tents of sleeping-bags for the teams operating in difficult field conditions.
The basic cause for these problems appears to be one of debt; officials explained that in normal years 50% of all resources were received from Federal sources before the start of the fire season. In the past, by the time the fire season started around 5th April, all preparations were complete. In 1998, the Far East Forest Protection Air Base in Khabarovsk began the year carrying a debt of 10 million roubles (USD 600,000) from 1997. They reportedly only received the 1998 budget in June, too late to prepare adequately. Consequently, there is now a very large gap of some 30 million roubles (USD 2 million) between expenditure and available budget.
In overview, the obvious immediate constraint is from weather conditions. Whilst rain has now been falling over parts of Sakhalin and the north of Khabarovsk region, strong winds, and dry conditions over a long period of time has provided perfect conditions for forest fires. If weather conditions continue, there is still the potential for significant additional damage to be caused.
However, the main constraints have been operational. The ground attacks on the fire has suffered from too little equipment, lack of fuel and food and too many sites to be protected. All official sources highlighted the problems caused by the current economic crisis in Russia. Costs have risen for fuel and equipment. As costs have increased, there has been fewer aerial patrols over threatened areas and so early warning systems have not been as efficient as they had been a decade previously. The Federal Forestry Service Deputy Chief in Moscow reported that ten years ago the service had been able to patrol up to five times a day if required. Now, they can only patrol on average once a week.This has allowed small fires to grow to a point where they can present a significant threat.
The EMERCOM aircraft had to fly 900km round-trip from the nearest airfield to drop the water on the fires. This required the use of 20 tones of fuel to be able to drop 42 tones of water per sortie. In addition, the nature of the fires made the use of aerial water bombing not very successful, due to the extensive smoke and the wide-scale nature of the fires. After six sorties, the aircraft returned to Moscow.
Lack of effective telecommunications equipment has also been highlighted, with the mobile crews being placed in danger by not being able to respond to changes in fire direction as effectively as they should be able to.
Recommendations on fire fighting are in Annex III.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is providing assistance to victims of the Sakhalin forest fires. In particular, it has donated CHF 50,000 from the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund. The Moscow Delegation of the IFRC has purchased relief items - amounting to US$ 15,000 in value - including blankets, bed sheets, children's coats and warm clothing sets for adults. A representative of the IFRC has been requested to purchase locally food items and kitchen utensils, also amounting to US$ 15,000 in value.
Reportedly, the Japanese Government would provide 5 million yen worth of emergency goods to Sakhalin to support those affected by forest fires. At the request of the Russian Government, Japan would send 700 blankets, sheets and pillows to the Russian Far East.
The Vice-Governor of the Khabarovsk Krai has reported that the area has been included in a World Bank project for sustainable forest management which will allow World Bank credit. The project was included in the World Bank project for 1998, but the economic crisis in Russia has delayed the implementation. It is hoped that the credit line will be available later this year. The krai administration is working to amend the terms of the project to reflect the changing demands made by the recent fire emergency.
US Department of Agriculture Forestry Service advisors are involved in long-term forest management projects in the krai, including fire-fighting. Although not directly involved in current operations, they have been working on capacity-building projects. The Vice-Governor of Khabarovsk reported that he would be meeting with USAID officials in Moscow to try to get some additional support from them.
EMERCOM officials would apparently be visiting China to try to build co-operation in the field of fire-fighting and emergency response. At the moment there is information-sharing between the two countries and an Agreement exists for fire-fighting co-operation within 20km of the border region.
It should be underlined that the fires are still raging. In Sakhalin, the situation has slightly improved, as some rains fell. At the same time, in Khabarovsk Krai it is becoming worse because drought continues, and winds become stronger.
Consequently, the Russian Far East needs urgent international assistance. The UNDAC Team has identified three priority areas for external aid:
First, fire fighting equipment and related items. It includes pumps, hoses, backpack sprayers, shovels, and protective clothes for fire fighters. Tents and sleeping bags are also needed.
Secondly, telecommunications. Relevant services badly need radio stations, transmitters and receivers of different ranges. It would ensure the necessary contacts between operation centers, ground forces, and aerial support.
Thirdly, early warning. In spite of the fact that Russians have access to basic satellite data, it is not sufficiently detailed. Efficient aerial surveillance is crucial. Most of the aircraft and helicopters are unserviceable. There is a strong and urgent need for spare parts and fuel.
Practically all the above items (except high quality protection gear) are produced in the country. Consequently, the best way to provide assistance would be to make cash contributions to OCHA, who would transfer them to the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Moscow, which would make the necessary arrangements for local purchase.
REQUIRED URGENT INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE
I. FIRE FIGHTING
BASIC FIRE FIGHTING EQUIPMENT
Various (except pumps) - Total cost US$ 250,000
SMALL FIRE FIGHTING EQUIPMENT
Various - Total cost US$ 50,000
207 units - Total cost US$ 352,000
50 units - Total cost US$ 25,000
3000 units (various) - Total cost US$ 150,000
Spare parts for heavy machinery - Total cost US$ 500,000
420 units - Total cost US$ 33,600
200 units - Total cost US$ 5,000
II. TELECOMMUNICATIONS EQUIPMENT
75 units - Total cost: US$ 150,000
227 units - Total cost: US$ 159,000
100 units - Total cost US$ 30,000
III. EARLY WARNING
Support to aerial surveillance
Spare parts - Total cost: US$ 500,000
Fuel - Total cost US$ 230,000
GRAND TOTAL US$ 2.434,600
It is not excluded that next May (in roughly six months) the situation may be similar (drought combined with a very difficult economic situation). In this case, forest fires would be a full-fledged catastrophy.
It is unlikely that the Russian fire fighters, emergency specialists and foresters would need foreign expertise and advice. They have all the necessary experience and knowledge, as they face regular forest fires in different parts of the country. In the past, Russians were able to cope with this problem. However, this year they are completely overwhelmed by a combination of an exceptionally long drought and an economic crisis. All relevant national forces and services are involved in fire fighting. But their technical means are very far from being sufficient, and personnel are exhausted. As a result, the disaster situation is out of control. The Russian fire fighters are hardly able to protect human settlements, pipe-lines and (military) installations.
Agencies are preparing official appeals but the immediate needs can be seen at several levels:
- cash assistance to pay debts from fire-fighting this year;
- capacity-building assistance to fight fires that remain, to replenish and repair equipment and provide prevention and preparedness capacities for future years;
- restoration and monitoring assistance for biodiversity management.
Without being able to pay existing debts, there appears little chance that the krai will be able to respond adequately to any further emergencies that might occur. The Russian authorities have identified the following equipment and support priorities:
- bulldozers and/or spare parts for repair;
- aircrafts and/or spare parts for repair;
- access to high resolution satellite data and analysis;
- spare parts for equipment;
- tents, sleeping bags;
- medicine for field personnel.
In addition, there is an urgent need to support biodiversity impact assessments to identify the actual implications of the disaster and provide recommendations to ameliorate the worst of the impacts to habitat and species such as the Amur Tiger.
Health monitoring is also at a low level and authorities have indicated the need to provide air quality monitoring equipment that can help extend health surveillance programmes.
The international airport at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is open and capable of receiving aircraft including, as illustration, Boeing 767 and IL-76s. The airport is 900km round trip from the main disaster site. There is a small airstrip near Tymovskoye used for helicopter landings.
An effective train system operates from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk north to the top of the island and the west coast. There is a station at Tymovskoye.
Road transportation from the capital is mainly on gravel road. The roads are very corrugated and extremely dusty at the moment. The trip from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Tymovskoye is approximately 450km.
Khabarovsk has an international airport that can cope with all commercial aircraft. There is a road network to all main centers of population. However, some 80% of the country is only accessible by helicopter. Khabarovsk is linked to the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the area is served by commercial seaports at Vanino and Nikolayevsk on the coast and the Amur river port of Khabarovsk.
Following the completion of its mission, the UNDAC Team returned to Geneva on 15 October. An Information meeting, with donors and international organizations, took place on Monday, 19 October in Geneva. The information on the findings of the mission was received with great interest (and concern on account of the reported size of the problem, its impact and the likely consequences, also in view of the deteriorating national capacity to deal with the emergency -also in the likely event of its re-occurrence). A list of requirements for urgent international assistance (totalling some US$ 2,5 million) was made available to the participants.
OCHA has released a US$ 50,000 grant to the Russian Federation for urgent purchasing of fire fighting equipment and related items.
The Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit of the Disaster Response Branch of OCHA and the Regional Desk will continue staying in close touch with the Russian authorities, and donors, in order to mobilize and coordinate assistance, as required.
During the mission, the UNDAC Team received full cooperation and support from the Russian Ministry of Emergencies, the Federal Forestry Service, the State Committee on Environment, their regional/local representatives, as well as from the Administrations of Sakhalin and Khabarovsk Krai.
The members of the UNDAC Team would like to take this opportunity to express their gratitude to all those officials of the Government of the Russian Federation, central, provincial and local authorities, and to the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Moscow, who extended important support, took the time to provide extensive background information and enabled visits to the affected areas.
30 September-2 October 1998
Initial meetings and briefings in Moscow with the Ministry of Emergencies and the Federal Forestry Service
3-5 October 1998
Field visits to disaster sites in Sakhalin, and meetings with the Regional Administration and local emergency and environmental uthorities
6-9 October 1998
Field visits to disaster sites in Khabarovsk Krai, and meetings with relevant Regional and local authorities
10-13 October 1998
Wrap-up meetings and debriefings in Moscow with the Ministry of Emergencies, Federal Forestry Service, and the State Committee on Environment
Dr. A. Amirkhanov, Deputy Chairman, Russian State Committee on Environment, Moscow
Mr. N. Balagansky, Director, Department of Hunting, Khabarovsk Krai
Dr. V. Belayev, Director, Pacific Fishery Research Institute, Khabarovsk
Mr. V. Boltroushko, Chairman, State Committee on Environment, Khabarovsk
Mr. Y. Brazhnikov, Director, Department of International Cooperation, Russian Ministry of Emergencies, Moscow
Mr. W. Bushnell, Fire Specialist, US Department of Agriculture, Alaska
Mr. C. Carpenter, UN Resident Coordinator, UNHCR, Moscow
Mr. V. Danilian, Desk Officer, Department of International Cooperation, Russian Ministry of Emergencies, Moscow
Dr. A. Darensky, Director, Institute of Hunting, Khabarovsk
Mr. E. Davidenko, Chief, Science-technology department, Avialesookhrana, Russia
Mr. Y. Deev, Deputy Director of the Sakhalin Emergency Department, Russian Ministry of Emergencies, Sakhalin
Mr. I. Farkhoutdinov, Governor of Sakhalin
Mr. S. Khetagurov, Vice-Minister, EMERCOM of Russia, Moscow
Mr. A. Kholodin, Vice-Governor, Administration of Sakhalin Region
Mr. I. Korolev, Deputy Director of Department of International Cooperation, Russian Federal Forestry Service, Moscow
Mr. G. Korotkin, Major-General, Far East Regional Centre, Russian Ministry of Emergencies, Khabarovsk
Mr. V. Koryakin, Deputy Director, Far East Forestry Research Institute, Khabarovsk
Mr. S. Kotelnikov, Deputy Chief, Sakhalin Forestry Agency, Federal Forestry Service of Russia, Sakhalin
Mr. S. Kouraev, Director, Department of International Cooperation, Russian State Committee on Environment, Moscow
Mr. A. Levintal, Vice-Governor, Administration of the Khabarovsk Krai
Dr. R. Liberova, Chief State Sanitary Doctor, Ministry of Public Health, Khabarovsk
Mr. V. Loginov, Vice-Governor, Administration of Sakhalin Region
Mr. A. Lyubyakin, Head, Far East Forest Protection Air Base, Federal Forestry Service, Khabarovsk
Mr. G. Markov, Chief of Logging Division, Forest Department, Khabarovsk
Ms. N. Moraleva, Programme Officer, WWF Moscow
Mr. D. Odintsov, Deputy Chief, Federal Forest Service of Russia, Moscow
Ms. N. Onishenko, Chairman, State Committee on Environment, Sakhalin
Mr. P. Owston, Forest Scientist, Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, USA
Mr. B. Pankratov, Vice-Chairman, State Committee on Natural Resources, Khabarovsk
Mr. V. Pominov, Director, Forestry Department, Khabarovsk Krai
Mr. Y. Prygounov, Colonel, Director of Department, Far East Regional Centre, Russian Ministry of Emergencies, Khabarovsk
Mr. V. Skachkov, First Vice-Chairman, State Committee Environment, Khabarovsk Krai
Mr. V. Stepanitsky, Director, Department of Protected Areas, Russian State Committee on Environment, Moscow
Mr. V. Turchenko, General Manager, Sakhalin Region Administration
1. Forest resources
The Russian forests are owned by the Federal Government, while their management is the responsibility of the Federal Forest Service. The right to use forest resources is delegated to regions, such as Khabarovsk krai.
Total land area of Khabarovsk region is about 78 million hectares (ha), [source: The Land of Khabarovsk, Priamurskiye Vedomosti, 1998: page 12], while the total area of productive forest land is about 48 million ha (62 per cent) [source: Russian Forest Industry Production: Trends and Prospects by N. Burdin, A. Myllynen and V. Strakhov. North Karelia Polytechnic, Joensuu, Finland, 1998: page 56]. While 90 per cent of forest resources are reported to be exploitable, only about 20 per cent of forest land is accessible by road, and 80 percent only by air. For the purposes of comparison, the area of production forests is as large as that of Finland, Sweden and Norway all together.
The growing stock of production forests of Khabarovsk region comprises a total of about 5 billion cubic meters (cu.m) [source: Russian Forest Industry Production: Trends and Prospects by N. Burdin, A. Myllynen and V. Strakhov. North Karelia Polytechnic, Joensuu, Finland, 1998: page 56].
Three main areas (zones) of forest are specified as follows:
a) Southern area comprising forests of Korean Cedar and broadleaved trees. It is affected by cyclones coming from South-East. Fire risk prevails normally until the end of October.
b) Central area of 30 million ha comprising spruce and larch forests, which is the main timber production area and which is now heavily affected by fires. Fires arrive at disaster level (300,000 - 400,000 ha) once every 20 years and at smaller disaster level every 10 years.
c) Northern area where forests are only monitored; there are no resources for their protection nor for the production of timber. Hunting, fishing and picking mushrooms and berries are the main uses of forests.
Tree and shrub species by main forest vegetation types are as follows (in order of majority):
i) Plains and gentle mountain slopes (zone of Cedar and broadleaved forests)
Pinus koraiensis (Cedar)
Betula: B. costata, B. platyphylla, B. mandshurica, B. davurica
Acer: A. mono, A. ginnala, A. tegmentosum
Tilia: T. amurensis, T. mandshurica
Corylus: C. mandshurica, C.heterophila
ii) Medium and steep mountain slopes of Sikhote-Alin mountain range (zone of conifers)
The climate is monsoon climate of temperate latitudes for most of the krai, yet on the Yumodo-Maisky highlands it is rather Siberian. Normally it rains a lot in the second half of summer. The summer of 1998 has been extremely dry, and no rain had been received in the region after May.
2. Management and utilization of forest resources
Organizations: The Khabarovsk office of the Federal Forest Service (FFS), which is a structural unit of the FFS in Khabarovsk, coordinates the work of 42 forest management units and 160 sub-units. It also has a fire fighting base, an institute of forest management, a forest survey and statistics unit and a medium level training and education institute. Total staff is 2800 persons.
Objectives of forest management were reported to be as follows:
- to provide a link between the owners and users of forest resources and, in particular, ensure the preventive measures for as well as protection and rehabilitation of forest resources;
- to protect and enhance the biological diversity of forests;
- to raise the annual harvest of timber closer to the maximum allowable cut.
Use of forest resources:
a) Harvesting of timber: The maximum allowable cut of the forests of Khabarovsk is 21 million cu.m per year, yet only 4.5 million cu.m were harvested in 1997. This means that only about 21 per cent of the production capacity of the commercial forest resources were utilized, and close to 80 per cent of the potential income was not realized. One explanation is the low accessibility to production forestry. This under-utilization can be considered as an economic loss related to the true potential of forestry sector in Khabarovsk region.
In comparison with federal statistics Khabarovsk is not an exception. The annual allowable cut for the Russian Federation is about 485 million cu.m, while the annual harvested volume is less than 100 million cu.m, i.e. 21 per cent [source: Russian Forest Industry Production: Trends and Prospects by N. Burdin, A. Myllynen and V. Strakhov. North Karelia Polytechnic, Joensuu, Finland, 1998: page 4]. Reasons for under-utilization include: vast resources that include both protection and production forests, restricted accessibility, and low demand of round wood because of the difficulties of timber industries.
Transfer to market economy is also causing changes that tend to decrease the annual harvest. One should also keep in mind that the stumpage value is very low in Russia (1-2 percent), while it is about 60 per cent of the price of raw wood in the Nordic countries. Investments in roads and other infrastructure before logging are small. Finally, the biased exchange rate between ruble and dollar have led to unprofitable exports in the past few years.
b) Other goods and services include hunting, picking of berries and mushrooms, as well as collecting Korean Cedar seeds and medical herbs and plants. Use of forests for tourism is increasing.
Budget and financing: The total budget in 1998 is 54 million rubles (mr), out of which 25 mr comes from the FFS, 21 mr from local sources including revenue from timber sales, and 8 mr from various other revenue-generating activities.
Fire fighting costs are normally covered by the FFS, although this year the funding has been badly delayed and reduced. From timber sales, a tax of 35 per cent is paid to the FFS, yet majority of the income produced by forestry remains in the region.
Because of the low rate of timber harvesting and because of the fact that the FFS has not been able to finance its part of the forest management as expected, the regional office is in debt. This is the main problem affecting the forest fire fighting operations. Even if the FFS sent some assistance in mid-August, the region's resources are exhausted. Forest industries had borrowed their own resources to fire fighting, including manpower, equipment and fuel, which had led to undermining of the local economy.
3. Forest industries
The wood processing industries, that mainly consist of saw-mills and only few remaining pulp mills, became very important for Khabarovsk krai when the shift to market economy started a few years ago. The role of these industries is to produce goods for exports and generate income in foreign currencies. Forest industries have acquired about 50-60 per cent of the annual total of export revenues. Even now, when the timber markets are in great difficulties and the raw-wood supply has nearly collapsed, the forest industries still have an important role as foreign currency generator. Plans of its further development are made in a special programme aiming at the year 2005 and at funding from the World Bank.
The current difficulties in the markets of the products of forest industries are a combination of internal problems, including the economic situation of Russia, and external problems reflecting the economic crisis in Asia in general and in Japan in particular. The current forest fires add to this problem context, make it more complex, and cause delays in recovery and development. In a newly introduced pilot project by the World Bank, therefore, fire fighting has been included as an additional component to be developed further.
4. Forest policies
A key objective of the fore st policy in the region is the strengthening of forest industries and the adequate supply of their raw material, i.e. round wood harvests from the region's forests. This objective includes the need for protecting the production forests from fire and other damage.
Russia has signed most of the recent international conventions and ministerial declarations that influence national forest policies. Consequently, sustainable forest management is a key principle of its forest policy at Federal level, and it was approved by the IV All-Russian Congress of Foresters on 25 June 1998.
Criteria and indicators of SFM were approved by the Order of the FFS on 5 February 1998. If correctly implemented, sustainable forest management provides means and funds for all activities including fire preparedness and fighting. In the region, such implementation seems to be less than adequate. Recently, the protection and enhancement of biological diversity has been added to the objectives of forest management in the region.
Khabarovsk krai is one of the most important forest districts of Russia, especially in the Russian Far East. This fact emphasizes the critical nature of the current forest fires.
5. Fire and forestry
Fire: Fire belongs to the natural succession of northern boreal virgin forest ecosystems. Without human intervention, such ecosystem is typically burned by lightning after having reached its climax age (100 - 200 years). In long term, such fires maintain the biological diversity and CO2-balance of the atmosphere.
Hence, some small proportion of natural forests (protection forests) could be allowed to burn every year following their biological succession pattern. In production forests, on the contrary, all other fires than control burning are considered as damage and, hence, should be put out.
Large parts of the forests of the northern area of Khabarovsk Krai comprise protected areas, while the central and southern areas predominantly consist of production forests.
In the 1970's and 1980's the rule was: "Fight every fire at any expense". Today, both ecological and economical reasons speak for a more careful choice of target of fire fighting. Some fires are normal and even necessary in boreal forests, yet they should be kept under control. The FFS is doing some control burning every spring in order to reduce the fire risk.
Damage to forests and environment. There is a reason to believe that the 1998 fires are the worst of the last 50 years. Reports of 9 October 1998 indicated that a total of 2 million ha has been affected by fires during this season. The raw wood lost was estimated to approach 15 million cu.m., equal to three years' timber harvest at today's annual rate. The direct expenditures to fire fighting exceed 50 million rubles, and the most recent estimate is 70 million rubles. Total damage to forests was estimated to 500 million rubles. The region's authorities called the damage an "ecological catastrophy of global significance" and an "international disaster", which does not only mean the loss of employment and a large part of raw material basis for forest industries, but also ecological damage to common heritage, loss of precious forests, biodiversity and human health. As transboundary pollution aspects with neighbors China and Japan, air-pollution and sea-pollution were mentioned. (Ongoing grass fires of China were speculated with, no official information on them was available).
Damage to biological diversity. Two Ramsar sites were affected. Soil had became exceptionally dry and burned in many places, including southern mountain slopes, thus leading to loss of biodiversity. Reforestation of such areas will be very difficult, and erosion may further deteriorate the situation. Habitats of the Amur Tiger were affected: the tiger eats wild boar which again eats seeds of the Korean Cedar which was burned in large areas. In the past few years the Tiger?s habitat has shifted northwards, because of human impact. This fire is envisaged to cause another shift again, unfortunately, and facilitate illegal hunting of the Tiger.
A number of endemic plant species' populations, such as wild grapes, were affected and perhaps lost. Salmon and sturgeon and others of the 130 fish species of Amur river had their breeding sites damaged, because of ash and fenol that will be flushed to rivers and ground water (also drinking water) by rains after the fires. Some of the buffer zones around rivers (one kilometer for Amur and 25 m for other rivers are required) had burned down.
The biodiversity loss by general degradation of ecosystems after forest fires is further characterized by the following fears:
- some landscapes / habitats will disappear definitively,
- species composition in forest stands will change after the fires,
- species composition for animals will deteriorate and, in particular, insects will have changes in composition and explosions of populations,
- river ecosystems will change, with some fish becoming poisonous, because of run-off of organic materials and increased floods during monsoon rains,
- rehabilitation of forest stands and other ecosystems can be difficult after fires.
Reasons: The root cause underlying the fire emergency seemed to be the rapidly deteriorated and still deteriorating economic situation of the country. Due to economic constraints, mainly at federal level, fire control and preparedness were reduced to an estimated 30 per cent of the previous years' level. Fires were fought with local and regional funding. Institutions for fire fighting are weakened and might collapse. Accumulations of dead wood and previously burned organic material in forests has added to fire risk. Exceptional drought has provided conditions for large area fires.
Lightning (15-30 percent) and careless handling of fire by population (70-85 per cent) were indicated by various sources as immediate reasons for fires. Lightning monitoring system was established in early 1990?s; it still is operational. NOAA-satellite data is available and produces helpful information for the monitoring of fires at general level, but not for fighting them.
- the forest resources are large (about as large as those of Finland, Sweden and Norway all together) and have global significance in terms of climate stability, biodiversity and production of forest goods and services,
- northern areas of the region are characterized by protection forests, while central and southern areas mainly consist of production forests that provide, e.g., valuable raw material for wood processing industries,
- scientific and technical basis for forestry is solid,
- know-how for fire prevention and fighting is in place,
- due to change to market economy, market disturbances and consequences of economic crisis of Russia, the production forests are under-utilized: only slightly over 20 per cent of wood harvesting opportunities are exploited annually,
- wood processing industries are very important as the main export industries, and they have suffered from lack of raw material and demand of their products,
- fires have reached a state of serious emergency which has deteriorated and complicated the already bad situation in the forestry sector, industrial sector and exports,
- the emergency has reached a level where significant global consequences are possible in terms of climate change, loss of biodiversity and transboundary air- and water pollution,
- the root cause underlying the fire emergency seems to be the rapidly deteriorating economic situation of the country,
- the forestry authorities are in debt because of fire fighting, and their resources are exhausted,
- resourcing the fire surveillance and fighting capacities from international sources seems to be motivated.
Fire protection / prevention
In the future, activities should be focused on an effective prevention of and preparedness to forest fires. This would include the establishment of firebreaks to protect human settlements, technical installations, road and railways, oil fields/pipelines, valuable forest areas, and natural reserves.
Public awareness should be further developed and improved by using the mass media, posters/signs, school education.
Public access to risk areas and in risk periods should be limited.
Early warning system
Satellite data are available, but not sufficiently detailed. Higher resolution systems exist, however they are very expensive to use. This particular question should be explored by UNEP, in cooperation with other competent organizations. It is crucial that detailed satellite data become readily available to all countries actually or potentially affected by forest fires.
Air patrol should be carried out in accordance with priorities, and in risk areas in conformity with fire danger index. Civil and military air traffic should be used for information sharing.
Establishment of an alarm system to be used by personnel working in the forest areas (communication system/equipment).
Establishment and maintenance of watchtowers at key positions in priority areas and risk zones.
Organized patrol teams to be sent out in risk periods to potentially affected areas.
Regional sharing of information on weather forecasts, humidity, lightnings, etc.
Establishment of a regional co-ordination centre, with authority to give orders and direct overall fire fighting operations in the region, according to priorities.
Agreements on use of timber industry personnel and equipment should be concluded as a part of contingency plan.
Dispatch of the nearest or most appropriate first response team (air and/or land) according to contingency plan for the area in question.
Establishment of regional mobile teams to be called on in situation where initial response is not sufficient. Members of such mobile teams should be on stand-by to deal with forest fires in risk periods. They should also take care of education of forest fighters, search and rescue operations, etc.
Mobile teams as such would be put together and dispatched emergency situations. These teams should be fully trained and equipped. Personnel could consist of civil protection, military, foresters, volunteers, students, etc.
Central Government response.
Federal assistance should be available according to the national contingency plan. It would involve mobile teams, water bombing aircrafts, helicopters, fire fighting equipment, bulldozers, excavators, transportation, fuel, food, civil defence and military personnel, etc.
It is recommended that OCHA and UNEP study feasibility of concluding agreements on international assistance with regard to the provision of equipment, technical assistance, expertise, personnel, financial resources, etc.
It is also recommended to use OCHA Warehouse in Pisa for stockpiling basic fire fighting equipment.
It is further recommended that OCHA and UNEP explore a possibility of establishment of international forest fire fighting teams, that could be rapidly deployed to affected countries.
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.