EFFIS, the European Forest Fire Information System, was established in 1998 by the JRC and DG ENV in collaboration with EU Member States and neighbouring countries. It provides up-to-date, reliable and harmonised information on forest fires in Europe to policy makers and forest fire-fighting services, thereby supporting fire prevention, preparedness, firefighting and post-fire evaluations.
EFFIS has proved its usefulness in helping authorities manage forest fire situations over its 12 years of operating on the European scale. It now seeks to extend its area of activities to cover the global scale.
A first step towards this goal was made this year with a very successful and animated EFFIS workshop to extend EFFIS to the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region which was held in Rabat, Morocco (25-28 October 2011). The workshop was called for at the Second Mediterranean Forest Week in Avignon (5-8 April 2011), where a special session on the extension of EFFIS to the whole Mediterranean region was held. The October workshop was organised jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the JRC, with the support of the German Organisation for International Cooperation (GIZ). It was attended by representatives from the EC (DG ENV & JRC) and the FAO and national forest fire service authorities from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Spain and Italy. The latter three countries, already member of the EFFIS network, were able to contribute with their experience of benefitting from EFFIS services.
The workshop received broad coverage in the local press. It was opened by Abderrahim Houmi, Secretary General of the Moroccan High Commission for Water and Forests and the Fight against Desertification, who pointed out that, as up to one million ha of forests are destroyed by fire every year in the Mediterranean basin, concerted action is needed. As this phenomenon will become more extreme with climate change, fire prevention measures will have to be integrated into national forest policies in the MENA region. The FAO pointed out that the role of EFFIS was fundamental to addressing the issue of forest fires in the Mediterranean region. Regional management of forest ecosystems needs to adapt to the new social, economic, environmental and climatic conditions, which requires regional cooperation in the fight against climate change impacts. This cooperation would support efforts to help forest ecosystems adapt to climate change.
As a follow up of the workshop, national representatives for the MENA countries will be nominated to join the Expert Group on Forest Fires (EGFF) of the EC; Morocco designated a fire expert who participated in the 27th meeting of the EGFF in Ispra (10-11 November). The other MENA countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria) expressed great interest and are expected to join the EFFIS network in 2012.
To facilitate the process, training sessionss on EFFIS have been proposed to be organised on the occasion of next EGFF meetings in 2012 and some European Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Italy and France, have already offered to bilaterally support the MENA countries in their efforts to join EFFIS.
The extension of EFFIS to the MENA region will also enhance the JRC’s collaboration with the FAO -Silva Mediterranea ( the FAO Forestry statutory body that covers the Mediterranean region) and the NENFIRE (Near East Regional Network on Forest and Wildland Fires of the Near East Forestry Commission ) networks. The outcomes of the workshop will be presented by FAO at the XXI session of Silva Mediterranea in Antalya, on 2-3 February 2012.