Bolivia - Forest Fires OCHA Situation Report No. 4

Situation Report
Originally published
Ref: OCHA/GVA - 99/0141
UNDAC team ends its mission

1. The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team that was deployed to La Paz on 1 September 1999, ended its mission on 9 September 1999. On 7 September 1999, the two-person UNDAC Team and the UN Resident Coordinator in Bolivia presented the mission's findings to the Government and donor community in the country.

UNDAC findings

2. Forest fires started due to slash-and-burn activities, a common practice in the area According to the National Service for Civil Defense (NSCD) and UNDAC team evaluation, surface fires affected most of the forest area. This kind of fires move over the ground burning the litter on the surface, such as grasses, other small plants and shrubs. They also burn mainly dead branches and small trees. The prolonged drought and the strong winds (ca.120 km/h, according the Prefecture of Santa Cruz Department) allowed the fire to spread quickly.

3. Several sites in the Beni and Santa Cruz Departments (approx. 100.000 ha according the NSCD/ "Superintendencia Forestal"), including urban and rural zones, were affected by the fires. The Province of Ascención de Guarayos was the most affected urban area (510 houses burned/destroyed). Most part of the Beni Department affected by fires is covered by savannas (or Pampas of Beni- 150-250 m over sea level), frequently used to raise cattle or cultivate (rice, corn, soya and others). The Santa Cruz region affected by fires includes dry forests and savannas. Great part of the Guarayos region is agricultural zone with an approximate area of 27344 Km2.

4. According to the National Service for Civil Defense (NSCD), the fires are now under control but the satellite images (latest release of 3 September'99) show several points were slash-and-burn fires/ forest fires are still ongoing in both Departments. During a field trip, on 3 September 1999, the UNDAC team detected several fires near Santa Cruz de La Sierra, which is very close to some of the very important environmental protected areas, such as the Natural Reserve San Matias, the National Park Noel Kempff, the National Park Kaa- Iya, and the National Park/ Indigenous territory Isiboro-Secure.

5. Due to the physical shape and types of flora of the regions affected, the fire burned the vegetation differently with different intensity. The native palm trees, that are very common in the burned forest areas, apparently have resisted well to the fires. Some signs of recovery were also observed in some pastoral areas recently burned. Almost 10-15 days after the fire, a dense green grass layer covers these areas. An unspecified number of wild and farm animals were killed due to the flames and dense smoke.

6. The presence of smoke in the air has also caused some related illnesses (e.g., ophthalmologic pathologies and pulmonary infections) to a large portion of the population living in the affected areas. All burned areas and surrounding zones have still a dense cover of smoke mainly during the morning period.

National Response

7. The Government of Bolivia emitted a Declaratory of Emergency on 16 August, 1999.The distribution of relief supplies remains a responsibility of the National Service for Civil Defense (NSCD) and local committees, in close cooperation with religious institutions and the Under-Prefectures.

8. The Prefecture of Santa Cruz Department in close coordination with the Third Air Brigade, (The Red Devils) organized support teams in order to control de fires in the province of Guarayos and nearby villages. Also had mobilized young volunteers, the police, army, and private sector.

9. The affected families were installed in schools where they received medical and food assistance. Presently many people have returned to their own houses. The National Service for Civil Defense (NSCD), in coordination with WHO/PAHO/CARE, has relocated the remaining displaced families in three camps with 150 tents. Each camp has capacity to shelter 945 persons and has latrines, showers, and water storage systems. The coordination of the camps was charged to the different churches of the region. Medical brigades were organized to assist the affected people in shelters/camps.

Outstanding needs

10. In addition to the needs mentioned in the OCHA Situation Report no.3 of 7 September 1999, the UNDAC team was able to identify some priority needs concerning forest fire equipment: cutting, digging and scraping tools, backpack pumps, appropriate clothing and footwear (safety boots), filtered face masks and helmets.

11. OCHA is prepared to serve as a channel for cash contributions for the immediate relief needs detailed above. Funds channeled through OCHA will be spent in coordination with the relevant organizations of the UN system and OCHA will provide written confirmation of their use. Funds should be transferred to OCHA account No. CO-590.160.1 at the UBS AG, PO Box 2770, CH-1211 Geneva 2, with reference: OCHA - Bolivia - Forest Fires

12. For coordination purposes, donors are requested to inform OCHA Geneva, as indicated blow, of relief missions, pledges or contributions and their corresponding values by item.

13. This Situation Report and further information on ongoing emergencies are also available on the OCHA Internet Website at:http://

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