Being reborn from the ashes

Ph. Huffington

It is estimated that almost 4 million ha were burned in the Chiquitania Region and over 5 million ha were affected in all of Bolivia.

At the end of August, we were called by the government of Bolivia along with other international financing entities, to coordinate efforts in support of the urgent necessity to control and extinguish the forest fires in the Chiquitania region on the eastern lowlands of Bolivia.

The gravity of the situation merited a decisive and generous emergency response on behalf of the international community in coordination with the national governments. And we put ourselves to the task.

The result of this joint effort was of over US$2 million of international aid was obtained in which FONPLATA contributed with $100,000 as well as firefighting equipment to be used on the ground, that were delivered to CEPAD, one of the organizations that was working in the Chiquitania; who in turn provided that aid to the volunteer firefighters that were active in the region.

The international aid added onto the efforts of the Bolivian government, and the authorities of Santa Cruz as well as the work of thousands of volunteers was able to significantly reduce the hot points in the fire and they continue to provide aid to the affected areas.

Nevertheless, the consequences remain. It is estimated that almost 4 million hectares were burnt in the Chiquitania region and over 5 million hectares  were affected in all of Bolivia. Complete ecosystems will take many years to recover, as well as the losses of flora and fauna in that location, the destruction of a sustenance means for the dwellers of the region that live off of agriculture or tourism.

On the longer term, the tragedy  will also  have consequences on the rating levels, the duration of droughts, the fertility of the soil and the availability of water sources which are indispensable for all aspects of life.

While this happened in Bolivia, extensive areas of the Amazon jungle were also being affected by fire in Brazil in what was the worst year insofar as forest fires were concerned since 2010 when they had over 125,000 fires.

The fact that the impact of the fires will be felt in more than one aspect, and beyond those countries that are  directly affected, makes it evident that we are before an enormous challenge to seek more efficient ways to avoid them and to deal with the consequences.

Above and beyond our immediate contribution during the emergency, I can’t help but ask myself what else can we do from the point of development financial institutions, to be able to provide a faster response to forest fires and also to be able to strengthen the capacity of response in the countries once they occur.

FONPLATA’s mission, is to take development to the more vulnerable populations, those that are more isolated and furthest away. These are precisely the populations that suffer the most in these types of disasters.

One of the obvious answers from our area of specialty and FONPLATA is to invest in infrastructure for the prevention as well as firefighting capabilities, such as fire stations, alarm systems and water pumping stations in vulnerable areas.

Likewise, we need to support the countries in the improvement of the training of the staff in charge of preventing and fighting fires in all levels; as well as providing support for public information campaigns to create awareness in the population.

We also need to look along with the regional governments, what are the necessities of the most affected communities in the most recent fires and what type of measures can be taken in order to be able to assist them in their recovery of their regular activities as quickly as possible.

Likewise, it is necessary, to go more in depth into the need of new development projects that contemplate from their outset of their initial  design the need for adaptation to climate change, which worsens the consequences and increases the risk of forest fires.

Finally, it occurs to me, that we can take advantage of the spirit of cooperation and joint action in order to propose a mechanism of regional cooperation for the prevention and fighting of forest fires, which includes the countries, international organisms and regional governments for the most affected areas.

Having overcome the emergency, now is a time to rebuild. FONPLATA and other development organizations that operate in the region have the financial capacity, the knowledge and above all the disposition to be able to work along with the countries and their people so that we can make it possible to rise from the ashes.

Text was originally published in the monthly column of  Juan E Notaro in the Huffington Post.