Russia, one of the largest countries in the world, also has the largest area of true closed forests, which represent 20 percent of the world's forests and account for 15 percent of the world's growing stock. Russian forests play an important role in the carbon cycle, providing significant carbon sequestration services, including to other countries.
Official data on forest fires shows that on average there are 24,000 forest fires annually covering 1.4 million ha of forest. Preliminary analysis of data collected during project preparation indicates that up to 93 percent of the country's forest fires are of human origin. In addition, total carbon emissions from fire-disturbed Russian forests are estimated at 50 to 231 million tons of carbon per year.
Most human-origin fires are quite naturally near settlements, which for that very reason are the more urgent to prevent, monitor, suppress, and extinguish, given the high potential for loss of life and property. In more remote locations, many fires may be worsened by clear-cutting by leaseholders.
Any successful program of fire prevention will thus have to invest in public awareness campaigns, and devote attention to forest practices which may increase fire incidence.
"By supporting the Government in its forest fire prevention and management efforts, the Bank continues its long-standing and comprehensive engagement with the Russian Federation on forest management, where efforts have centered on policy development, institutional strengthening, information and land-use planning systems and strengthening regional forest inventory and pest protection organizations," said Michal Rutkowski, World Bank Country Director for Russia.
Further, the Bank's engagement also provides direct support to the country's Forest Sector Development Strategy through 2020, a national policy document approved by Executive Order of the Ministry of Industry and Trade and Ministry of Agriculture in October 2008. According to the Strategy, the systemic problems facing forest sector development include significant loss of forest resources from fires, pests and diseases; as well as low quality forest regeneration; and a high level of illegal timber logging. The primary objective of the Strategy is to support sustainable forest management and to maintain and strengthen forest resources, as well as the environmental capacity of forests.
"This engagement includes analytical and advisory activities as well as the current EU-supported Forest Law and Governance (FLEG) program, which the Bank is implementing with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Through this support, the Government has come to rely on the Bank as a source of global best practice on forest fire management and sustainable forest management," added Angela Armstrong, World Bank Project Team Leader.
The Project will support two of the four strategic themes of the World Bank Country Partnership Strategy with Russia for 2012-2016, which was discussed by the Bank Board of Directors in December 2011. In particular, forest fire management improvements envisaged by the Project will support sustainable development and effective protection of the environment under the first strategic theme, Increasing Growth and Diversification. In addition, the Project will strengthen Russia's contribution to global public goods, thereby supporting another strategic theme, Deepening Russia's Global and Regional Role.
The loan has a final maturity of 18 years including a grace period of 5 years.
Russia joined the World Bank (IBRD-member and IDA-donor country) in 1992. Today, IBRD is financing 9 investment projects in Russia for the total amount of US$ 756 million.
The Soviet Union had a large and advanced forest-fire suppression capability, using 600 aircrafts, 8,000 smokejumpers, and 70,000 full time forest guards. This capability was decimated by budget cuts after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Indicators of the consequences of this were the 70 percent decline in aircraft flight hours for fire control between 1991 and 2002, and the decline over the same period in the percentage of fires detected by aviation, from 89 percent in 1991 to 44 percent in 2002. In addition, the average size of fires at detection - the smaller the fire at detection, the more likely/easier it is to be brought under control - and initial response time consistently increased from 1991 to 2002 as a result of shrinking fire management resources.
These negative trends were exacerbated as an unintended consequence of a major reform embodied in a new Forestry Code, which took effect January 1, 2007. This code decentralized responsibility for fighting forest fires to the 89 subjects (oblasts, krai, republics) of the Russian Federation, many of whom were not prepared for this responsibility. Furthermore, the elimination of any central authority with the ability to shift resources in real time from regions free of severe fire stress to those suffering overwhelming attack, removed the main source of flexibility from Russia's fire response system.
The consequences of these accumulated deficiencies came dramatically into focus in the summer of 2010. Human activities, which increase burning and carbon release from living and dead vegetation includes the large-scale historical drainage of peat swamps in Russia. In drought years, combustion of drying peat accelerates to the stage of open fire, with large smoke releases to the atmosphere.
Some 33,500 fires were recorded (50 percent more than in 2009) covering 2.3 million ha, with a large proportion of high-intensity crown fires. Unusually, most of the damage occurred in the western part of Russia, particularly the Central, Southern, Volga, and Urals federal districts (Okrugs), with the hardest hit oblasts being Nizhny-Novgorod, Moscow, Ryazan, and the Republic of Mari El. Comparing 2010 with 2009, the Central Okrug experienced 32 times greater burned area, the Volga Okrug 27 times, and the Urals 6 times. In addition, carbon emissions from vegetation fire, estimated at 150 million tons, were 50 percent higher than 2009 estimates. Several plumes of smoke rose to the stratosphere over western Russia, and by August coalesced into one massive cloud 3,000 km long. In Moscow City on August 7, air samples showed 6.6 times the normal levels of carbon monoxide, and illness and mortality due to extreme air pollution reached high levels.
The IIASA estimates economic losses from the 2010 summer fires at $10 billion.