Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unit to study wildfires in Asean

Unit to study wildfires in Asean

A satellite image shows fires (red dots) across Cambodia and surrounding countries in February last year.
A satellite image shows fires (red dots) across Cambodia and surrounding countries in February last year. NASA

Unit to study wildfires in Asean

The first dedicated research unit for studying wildfires in upper Asean countries, including Cambodia, could provide invaluable research data to help governments address the issue, scientists and conservationists said yesterday.

“There is no existing focus or direct research center or special research unit that deals directly with wildland fires, smoke and haze under vegetation types, geographic conditions, weather patterns and related human behaviors of mainland Southeast Asia,” reads the founding statement of the Upper Asean Wildland Fire Special Research Unit (WFSRU).

Established last month within Thailand’s Kasetsart University, the unit aims to fill a significant gap in the region’s knowledge and research on wildfires, forest fires and their impacts on the environment and human society and health in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

One of its three founders, Dr Veerachai Tanpipat, said the unit’s activities fall under the Global Wildland Fire Network, which was mandated in 2004 by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

“It will act as a focal point to provide all necessary fire, smoke and haze scientific and management knowledge to interested parties,” he said in an email.

According to Tanpipat, the “main purpose” of the unit would be to provide governments, like Cambodia’s, with practical information to address their wildfire problems.

“Fire is a big issue in Cambodia’s forests,” said Simon Mahood, a senior technical advisor for the NGO Wildlife Conservation Society.

“We will look for ways to work with [WFSRU] in Cambodia so that we understand more about the impact of fires and how to prevent them,” he added.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A volunteer holds tubing used as a hose during last year's fires in Prek Toal. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

NASA satellite imagery from the past decade shows Cambodia has one of the region’s highest observed numbers of “hotspots”, or active fires, which cause seasonal haze impacting health and air quality. The 2015-2016 fire season saw as many as 1,000 hotspots recorded in a single day, Forestry Administration officials said at the time.

Alarmingly, dry conditions at that time also led to unprecedented fires in the wetlands surrounding the Tonle Sap lake, burning some 2,000 square kilometres, including large portions of flooded forests.

Multiple Environment Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday or declined to comment for this story.

However, Forestry Administration spokesman Kao Omaliss, while acknowledging high rates of wildfires, categorically denied forest fires were a problem.

As for the wetland fires last year, he maintained that “when we check the satellite it looks big, but if we visit on the site of the fire it’s small”, despite on-the-ground observation by The Post showing otherwise.

Still, Omaliss expressed interest in collaborating with the unit. “If they invite us to the workshop we will attend.”

Additional reporting by Rinith Taing

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince injured, wife dies after accident

    THE wife of former First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Ouk Phalla, 39, died while the prince was “severely” injured following a road accident in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nub district on Sunday morning, officials said. Rananriddh, who is also the president of the Funcinpec

  • Guards protest dismissals, reject claims of sharing naked photos of child

    Some 20 former security guards at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh protested on Tuesday against their dismissal. They accused their employers of falsely claiming they had viewed and shared child pornography from their mobile phones as grounds for their termination. In total, 32 personnel were dismissed

  • Bun Heang mocks US, threatens its citizens in scathing open letter

    After being hit with sanctions from the US Department of Treasury, Cambodian General Hing Bun Heang said he would retaliate against any US national who does not respect his country’s sovereignty, has ambitions to invade Cambodia or incites “traitors” in the Kingdom to do

  • Funcinpec urges probe into deadly Preah Sihanouk accident

    THE Funcinpec party has urged the government, especially the Ministry of Interior, to investigate the traffic accident in Preah Sihanouk province which left Prince Norodom Ranariddh badly injured and his wife Ouk Phalla dead. Funcinpec Vice President You Hokry told reporters at Botum Votey pagoda,