Raging Fires Wiping Out Wildlife, Property
UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)
March 8, 2000
Nairobi - Forest fires raging out of control in Ethiopia's southeast Oromiya state
have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of land, and urgent appeal has been
issued for international aid.
The fires, which broke out over three weeks ago in the Shakiso district of the
state's Borena zone of Oromiya state, are believed to have escalated out of control
after local farmers started burning land for cultivation.
Government officials described the situation as "critical". The head of the natural
resources department in the agriculture ministry, Tamiru Habte, told IRIN the
international response to the government's appeal for assistance had been
A total of six experts, three from South Africa, two from Germany and one from the
US, on Sunday travelled to the Borena and Bale zones to assess the damage and
study ways of extinguishing the fires. A further 22 experts were expected in the
country by Wednesday, Tamiru said.
Some 70,000 hectares of natural forest have been razed, hundreds of wild animals
and birds in the Borena and Bale regions have died, and bee hives, electricity
poles and residential houses have been destroyed. Conservationists are
particularly alarmed as the fires are closing in on the Bale Mountains national park,
home to many rare animal and plant species. According to Tamiru, some 100,000
people in Borena and Bale have been mobilised and "are working tirelessly every
day" in a bid to extinguish the fires.
"It has been extremely difficult," he said. The main problem was not manpower, but
lack of equipment. "We are in dire need of helicopters, pumps, fire extinguishers,
hand tools to fight the fire on the ground, more experts, more fire fighters." He
warned that because of the wind and dry weather, the fires risked spreading
A statement by the team of six experts on Monday also appealed for more
equipment to fight the raging fires. It said aerial impressions collected during
survey flights between 3-5 March confirmed that ten of thousands of hectares of
natural mountain forest have been affected by fire.
There was currently no reliable monitoring system in place, and current
demographic and socio-economic conditions had led to an "unprecedented
pressure on the remaining mountain forest ecosystems". The extended drought in
the region had further aggravated the situation and an "immediate response" was
required, the statement stressed.
The fires were burning in extremely inaccessible and very steep terrain and could
not be reached by ground transport, it pointed out. One option was to deploy
specialised fire fighter crews by helicopter. "The mobilisation of national and
international efforts in fighting the current fires is an important step towards a clear
commitment to save the endangered forest resources of the country," the
The Nairobi-based UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), for its part, said it had
not received an official request for assistance from the Ethiopian government. "We
have heard about the fires," an official from the agency told IRIN. "In fact we are
trying to get a map of the affected area and follow up the incident. But our
response is always given on request by the affected government."