The wildland fire situation has worsened significantly across South Africa. During the past several years, there have been major and catastrophic fires which have resulted in death, damage to infrastructure and loss of property and assets. This has also impacted negatively on the natural environment and has come at an enormous direct and indirect social and economic cost to the country.
Fynbos is a fire-prone and fire-dependent shrubland vegetation that requires regular fire to ensure the persistence of the extremely high species diversity. The Fynbos Biome is defined by South Africa as the most fire-vulnerable in the country and is even more prone to climate change related disaster risks from wildland fire.
The FynbosFire Project is a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded initiative established in 2012. It is managed by UNDP and implemented by Landworks through the Department of Environmental Affairs in four rural communities (Goedverwacht, Kranshoek, Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, Clarkson) within the Fynbos Biome. The project is aimed at developing sustainable interventions to radically reform the approach to managing wildfires and to implement strategies to reduce wildfire risks. FireWise community concepts aim to build resilience against destructive unwanted wildfires, with a focus on preventing damage to people’s homes, livelihoods and the landscape surrounding them. The strategies employed include FireWise training to capacitate rural communities to recognise fire danger and to administer their own specific risk reduction measures.
FireWise teams were taught to use the fire danger index to measure the degree of fire danger and using simple but effective mechanisms and tools such as colour-coded flags, multi-lingual pamphlets, door-to-door and school based education campaigns, communicate with communities about being FireWise. “When I started to learn what FireWise was about, I told myself that I want to make a difference in Clarkson, to safeguard Clarkson from wildfires” – Chairperson of the FireWise Committee in Clarkson
These teams form a second line of defense in the case of big fire emergencies. In 2017, Kranshoek survived fires that spread over 300km and burned for nearly two weeks – this was, in part, due to the FireWise principles implemented in this community.
The project has engaged a variety of stakeholders including the insurance industry, calling for the design of tailored products with a reasonable and attainable cost structure for poor and vulnerable communities such as those living in the communities in which the project is implemented. Private sector partners were called upon to subsidise products that will protect these communities from future disasters.
“We are proud that this project and its results are echoing well beyond the shores of South Africa and we will be happy through our networks as UNDP to ensure that its legacy continues to resonate in international circles well beyond its completion” said UNDP Country Director, Mr. Walid Badawi at the project closeout event in March this year.
Other partners in the project:
Natural Resource Management, SANBI Climate Change and Bio Adaptation, FFA Group of Companies, UNDP, South African National Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Directorate Regulation, National Disaster Management Centre, COGTA, Provincial Disaster Management: Western and Eastern Cape Fire Chiefs Working Group, Western Cape and Eastern Cape Umbrella Fire Protection Associations, SANBI (CAPE Projects), SANParks, Cape Nature, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.