GENEVA, 4 July 2011 – As Europe and North America move into the summer season, the risk of wildfires will increase. While these natural hazards may not get the attention of earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones, their destructive potential is considerable and reducing the risks they present should be a priority for countries who face this threat.
Over two million people worldwide have been affected by wildfires in the past 10 years, which also caused an estimated US$24 billion in damage, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).
“As the world celebrates 2011 as the International Year of Forests, we recognize the importance of forests in providing governments, communities and the private sector with vital natural resources and acting as a natural ally for reducing disaster risks,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Although there is a need to put resources in place for responding to wildfires, such as providing fire trucks, training people to fight fires, taking steps to address deeper issues through risk reduction measures, such as land use policies, sustainable forest management, and environmental education, is a priority.
“Forests provide almost a third of the world's population with food, fuel or medicine, as well as a safety net during disasters,” said Crown Prince Haakon of Norway during his opening address to European ministers at the Forest Europe summit in June. He added that growing forests sequester carbon, wood products store carbon throughout their lifetime, and renewable energy is provided with biomass.