Tuesday, 18 November 2003: 4:00 PM
Fire regimes in SE Asia and shifting cultivation, What? Who? Where? Still? Who Else?
A comparison of the fire incidence and extent in the past few decades for South East Asia suggests some perplexing questions. The rate of fire incidence appears to have increased dramatically, the area burnt appears to be at an all-time high and the response to the fires typically high profile involving governments, donors, NGOs and other actors yet consistently failing to moderate either incidence or are burnt. The common “understanding” of where the fires originate and the location of blame for ignition and the reasons for starting the fires confuses these questions, perhaps in some cases deliberately so. As is the case in many parts of the world the data available to underpin information and provide the basis for improving knowledge is at best incomplete and more often completely absent. The focus on fire over the past two decades since the initial high-profile “mega-fire” event of 1983 has not lead to a significant improvement in the information available on fire regimes, fire use or fire impacts. Across the region there is represented a wide range of fire use, historical fire patterns, changes to both and acceleration in alterations to fire regimes, both less and more fire. A few of these are understood most remain un-studied and the majority unknown. This paper seeks to examine some aspects of the fire regime question for South East Asia. The limitations of knowledge and information preclude a definitive assessment and cases, mainly identified during the work of Project FireFight South East Asia are used to illustrate the various approaches to fire and some of the reasons underlying them. Varying from place to place the reasons that arise for fire range from essential subsistence through habit to lack of viable alternatives and short run financial thinking. All of them impact on fire regimes and all are complex. There is often a strong dis-connection between those who use fire (and perhaps need to use it) and those for whom the fire and its effects are a concern. Any basis for addressing alterations in regime rests with clear understanding, carefully compiled insight and opportunities for change that are balanced, sustainable and acceptable to those who must deal with them or implement them (most often local people). In some cases there may be very little that can be done to change the regime change.