## Wildfires in Algeria: problems and challenges

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 8, Issue 6, Pages 818-826 (2015)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor1279-007

Research Articles

In the scenario of the Mediterranean area, where about 54 000 fires and 0.4 million hectares of forest are burned and annually registered (2006-2010), the rank for Algeria is non-negligible with 4.11 million hectares of forest. The annual number of fires and the size of area burned depict a critical situation, which became rather dramatic in 2012. Climate change projections and the estimated changes to wildfire risk for the future decades (2030-2060) indicate that the entire Maghreb region, including Algeria, will be among the most affected areas of the Mediterranean. Longer fire seasons will be experienced and extended by an additional month with each passing year. Despite Algeria’s recent investments in technical means for controlling forest fires, the current suppression-oriented model seems unable to cope with such a phenomenon. Furthermore, the model is unfit in view of the approaching scenario, when fire-exclusion policies need to be complemented with fuel-reduction techniques and fire prevention management. This study aims to establish an understanding of the context and public policy issues related to wildfire management in Algeria. Data were collected by distributing questionnaires to foresters with the objective of identifying obstacles and constraints hindering the efficacy of pro-active measures. Analysis of the data gathered indicates that Algerian foresters are well aware of the importance of prevention, contrasting with current governmental policies that are predominantly oriented towards improving the technical extinction apparatus. A SWOT analysis suggests possible strategic options for improving the efficiency of wildfire control by building on strengths, eliminating weaknesses, exploiting opportunities, and mitigating threats. The results of this study may be adapted to other countries with similar problems as those of Algeria.

# Introduction

In the period 2003-2010, more than 5 million ha of forest were burned in the Mediterranean region, and more than 600000 wildfires were registered ([14]). From 2006 to 2010, approximately 269000 fires burned a total of 1907512 ha of Mediterranean forests, other wooded lands (OWLs), such as shrubland and grasslands (on average 54000 fires and 0.4 million ha per year, respectively), and agricultural lands ([14]); of the total area burnt (38%), about 731000 ha were forests. Approximately 78% of these fires burned in four southern countries of the EU (Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain), and 50% only in Portugal and Spain. In the future climate change prediction scenarios, wildfire risk is forecast to increase nearly everywhere in the Mediterranean region ([21]), with the southern Mediterranean area being at higher risk all year round. Projections for 2030 to 2060 suggest that the Maghreb (and the Balkans, North Adriatic, Central Spain, and Turkey) will suffer at least an additional month of high wildfire risk ([21]).

Whereas the five southern member states of the EU (or Western Mediterranean countries - [14]), the so-called fire club ([58]), are well considered within the fire literature, the same cannot be said for the southern Mediterranean Maghreb countries. For instance, it was only in 2010 that the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) started to include Northern African countries in the mapping of burnt areas and the assessment of fire danger ([11]). The wildfire problems experienced in some Middle East and North African (MENA) countries, such as Algeria, are therefore almost unknown despite the fact that they significantly contribute to general wildfire statistics within the Mediterranean Basin area ([34]). In the period from 2006 to 2010, for example, the total number of fires recorded in Algeria was 12230 compared with 6996 in Greece. The total burnt area in Algeria during the same period was 147685 ha, representing about 8% of the total burnt area in Mediterranean countries (including forests, OWLs, and agricultural lands); this percentage was greater than for Bulgaria (3%), Turkey (3%) and France (3% - [14]).

Fire management challenges are not currently an object of great interest in North Africa, where recent literature on wildfires is rather scarce and mainly oriented towards fire ecology studies ([31], [47], [2], [54]) or remote sensing analysis ([26], [22], [23]). In the Western Mediterranean region, a number of researchers have approached the challenges of fire management by exploiting the knowledge of experts: with local farmers and fire experts in Spain ([62], [32], [49]); in the analysis of training provided to Portuguese forestry workers and their opinions on fires ([5], [7], [6]); regarding the prevention of unwanted fires ([4]); regarding agro-forestry farmers/landowners’ attitudes towards fire prevention, including their perceptions of the causes of fires ([61]); and in the evaluation of the reduction of forest fire risk in Catalonia ([40]). A number of other projects have adopted similar approaches, such as FireSmart ([51]) and FireParadox ([52]). Moreover, the Community-Based Fire Management (CBFiM) approach to fire management ([13]) adopts similar tools, such as the Participatory Rapid Appraisal, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of projects. We consider expert analyses to be a potential and practical tool for developing a deeper understanding of fire management issues in Algeria, which provides a highly useful and relevant case study for exploring some of the challenges related to wildfires (i.e., fires are a permanent threat within the country and little research has been conducted by fire science researchers). In addition, the results of this study will be of significant interest to other countries with similar socio-economic conditions.

In recent years, Algeria has invested in fire suppression activities. However, until now no national assessment has been conducted on the wildfire control apparatus within the country. Our interest stems from the need to examine the current organization and to develop strategic recommendations for overcoming possible obstacles and limitations. Hence, the purpose of this study is to survey and evaluate the national wildfire control service in Algeria, establishing an understanding of the context and public policy issues related to wildfire management, with the objective of identifying obstacles and constraints hindering the efficacy of pro-active measures. Research was conducted using the criteria of the FireSmart project (EU 7th Framework Programme 2007-2013 concerning forest fire preventive measures) with the collaboration of the Algerian Forest Administration (General Directorate of Forests, DGF), which permitted and provided direct, personal contact with foresters. Thus, the opportunity was given to evaluate the results with those already obtained in Southern Europe ([53], [32]).

# Methods

## Study area: history, wildfire policies and current control apparatus

In the wildfire scenario of the Mediterranean area, the rank for Algeria is non-negligible with 4.11 million ha of forest (58% of which is degraded bush; forestry ratio 1.76%). The paucity of forests and the growing threat of desertification render fires particularly devastating. Despite huge investments in the national fire control apparatus, the yearly number of wildfires is increasing. From 1876 to 2012, the cumulative surface burned in Algeria was 5272717 ha, which is close to the forested area of about 5 million ha in 1830 before the French colonization ([37]). During certain seasons, the number of burned surfaces surpassed 200000 ha, as in 1956, 1983 and 1994 (204220, 221367 and 271598 ha, respectively). More recently (1985 to 2010), 1636 fires were annually recorded and on average 35024 ha of forest were burned ([33]). The current forest fire fighting policy is based on suppression and prevention; the latter mainly relying on the colonial model ([9]) of fire prevention grounded on infrastructures that are not distributed across the territory according to risk level but rather according to administrative and local political criteria ([33]). The main actors of fire policy in Algeria are the Civil Protection organizations (Ministry of the Interior and Local Governments) and the Forest Service (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development). A plethora of other stakeholders are also involved. This results in the existence of multiple decision-making centers, which are ineffective and inefficient. Wildfire protection programs are implemented by the Forestry Service (2229 individuals organized within 456 Forest Mobile Patrols for initial attacks and 922 units staffing 375 fire lookout towers). In addition, there are 6000 Civil Protection units and 42088 seasonal forest workers. The program also relies on 40 4WD Medium Tankers, 800 firefighting trucks, 1617 water points, 32556 ha of firebreaks, and 37933 km of forest roads and fire trails ([35]).

## Structured questioning

Research was conducted through a quantitative survey administered to technicians working in the DGF who are involved in forest fire control field operations. Structured questioning was achieved through the use of an ad hoc questionnaire borrowed from the FireSmart questionnaire ([51]). The questionnaire included 62 questions structured into five groups of closed-ended questions, with a predetermined set of potential responses (professional activity; forest fire management; forest fire prevention; infrastructures; conflicts influencing fire prevention), and an open-ended question. Responses to the questions were classified using scores from 1 to 10, or the Likert scale ([28]). Other scales were also used, mirroring the same technique used within the FireSmart questionnaire. When the scale of 1 to 10 was used, results were expressed in terms of mean ± standard deviation (SD).

## Panel of experts

The DGF provided the names of all foresters operating within the 40 wilayas (provinces) of northern Algeria that experience wildfire problems. These foresters are involved in forest fire control and therefore considered to be very knowledgeable. From this list we randomly selected 10 people per wilaya, for a total of 400 individuals, to serve as our panel of experts. The questionnaire was mailed to each member of the panel.

## SWOT Analysis

The questionnaire results were synthesized using a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. The Strengths and Weaknesses are internal, controllable factors, which can be acted upon; they exist now and refer to the current situation. The Opportunities and Threats are external, independent and uncontrollable factors ([20]); they refer to events that might happen in the future or are waiting to happen ([55]). SWOT analysis is a common tool used for analyzing a project, program, activity, etc. ([55], [30], [19]), and for obtaining support for strategic planning and decision-making ([32]). SWOT analysis is often used within the forest sector ([3], [50], [12], [18], [48], [32]). However, to our knowledge, the present study is the first to apply this technique to forestry issues in Algeria and at MENA country level.

# Results and discussion

## Participants’ background information

From the 400 foresters contacted by e-mail at the national level, we received 228 replies, representing a response rate of 57%. The responses were irregularly distributed per wilaya. A sample profile in terms of age, gender, level of education, type of employment, and working region was recognized as a factor influencing perception/opinion of respondents ([60], [8], [49]). Our sample (N=228) is mainly composed of males (n = 221, 97%). The presence of females (n = 7) is concentrated in the 31- to 41-year age-group. The dominant age-groups were 41 to 51 years (122 individuals, 54% of the total, followed by the 51+ age-group (54 individuals, 24% of the total). The sample was therefore composed of mostly aged people (176 individuals, 3 females), representing 77% of the total; the average age of the interviewees was 46 years. “Experience” was divided into four age-groups (<11, 11-21, 21-31 and 31+ years) yielding the following values: 11 to 21 years (26%) and 21 to 31 years (52%). In conclusion, 78% of the respondents have an experience at more than 11 years of age. All grades, with 7 classes, were contacted, 3 of which were represented by officer classes (Conservateur, Inspecteur Divisionnaire, Inspecteur subdivisionnaire) accounting for 48% of the respondents. All respondents with the officer’s grade have a university level education (Degree in Forestry Engineering).

Chi-squared test statistics of dependency between age, experience and all items in the questionnaire were carried out by Sphinx survey and statistics software package (⇒ http:/­/­www.­sphinxsurvey.­com/­). Dependency between age, experience, and the responses to the questionnaire that were calculated as significant are reported in Tab. 1.

Tab. 1 - Chi-squared test statistics of dependency between age, experience, and responses to the questionnaire. (df): degrees of freedom.

Dependency χ² df 1-p (%)
Age/Experience 194.82 9 99.99
Age/Wilaya 124.76 78 99.94
Age/Budget (financial contribution to prevention) 23.43 12 97.57
Age/Training 26.33 12 99.04
Age/Detection 53.45 27 99.82
Age/Cleaning, thinning and pruning of forests 45.50 27 98.56
Experience/Wilaya 103.48 78 97.16
Experience/Detection 44.15 27 98.01

As expected, the driving factors were age and experience. Although we obtained the most important results, not too much emphasis was ascribed to personal influence, considering that all contacted individuals work within the DGF (a homogeneous technical and administrative unit with a strong hierarchy and well-defined set of customs, norms, and standards and in which all components share common rules, values and objectives). In short, we considered the DGF as a unit in which interpersonal differences were not so crucial.

## Forest fire management

Results are presented in terms of average rating or percentage of respondents agreeing or disagreeing with the statements. Appendix 1.1 presents the results of the questions relating to management and response. The responses were scored on a scale from 1 to 10 points, with 10 being the highest score; the scores were expressed as mean ± SD and were rather scattered. High scores (8 points and over) were only attributed to the importance of the forest and to the ecological and environmental impact of fires. Medium scores (6 to 8 points) were attributed to a number of issues, with the importance of prevention receiving the highest score (7.56 ± 2.38). Other issues receiving a medium score were training of personnel, the investigation of causes of fire, campaigns and public awareness, the importance of politics, and the effects of fuel management. The question of whether wildfires are important from a socio-economic point of view received a rather moderate score (6.57 ± 3.14). Relatively low scores (less than 6 points) were attributed to technical factors hindering fire prevention, scarce perception of fire by the public, conflicts of interest among different social agents, coordination among different agents intervening in fire control, and economic factors. The lowest score (4.40 ± 2.93) was recorded for the question if legal factors were limiting the success of forest fire prevention activities.

## Forest fire prevention

Appendix 1.2 presents the experts’ responses in relation to fire prevention activities. The responses were classified using a five-point Likert scale. The results were commented by the sums of percentages of 1 and 2 (Strongly disagree and Disagree) and 4 and 5 (Agree and Strongly agree), without considering the neutral opinion of undecided respondents, which reached a maximum of 25.76% and a minimum of 1.75% of responses. “Prevention” (93.89% as the sum of Agree and Strongly agree) was perceived as a more efficacious strategy than extinction of forest fires. We emphasize this high value because “an empirical generalization or communication is deemed objectively true or confirmed if there is a broad consensus on this subject by a group of experts” ([39]). This finding aligns Algerian foresters to those of other countries, where prevention is considered the priority approach ([42], [44], [51], [10], [32]).

We defined an index of agreement (Iag) according to the following formula (eqn. 1):

$$I_{ag} = \frac{\%(Agree + Strongly\;agree)} {\%(Strongly\;disagree + Disagree + Undecided)}$$

i.e., from the percentages in columns (4+5) / (1+2+3) in the Appendix 1.2. The higher the ratio, the stronger the level of agreement. A strong level of agreement (Iag) was found for the following statements (the ratio is shown in brackets): “forest fire prevention is more effective than extinction” (Iag= 16.53), which received the highest agreement level; “public awareness directed at the rural population reduces the forest fire problem” (Iag =12.42); and “it is necessary to provide legislation and specific recommendations for fire prevention within the wildland-urban interface” (WUI - Iag= 10.40).

We found a more modest Iag for the following statements: “suitable planning of land uses benefits forest fire prevention” (Iag= 4.85) and “an increase in financial expenditure on prevention multiplies its effectiveness” (Iag = 4.70). Finally, the lowest Iag was recorded for the following statements: “public forests are properly managed for forest fire prevention” (Iag= 0.62) and “private forests are properly managed for forest fire prevention” (Iag= 0. 21). These results confirm the need to focus further on wildfire prevention ([32]).

## Infrastructures

Responses (Appendix 1.3) are characterized by relatively high SDs, indicating a wider dispersion of respondents’ points of view. Traditional infrastructures (forest roads and fire trail networks, fuel breaks, lookout towers and water supply points) as well as monitoring and detection were highly rated, scoring more than 8/10 (8.60 ± 2.08 and 8.16 ± 2.67, respectively). Forestry operations as well as opening and maintenance of fuel breaks (8.03 ± 2.41) and cleaning, thinning and pruning (8.60 ± 2.08) were well appreciated by the foresters. Meteorological forecasting systems (7.12 ± 2.8) and fire risk and hazard prediction (6.81 ± 2.68) were also rated highly. On the contrary, fuel management and techniques ([29], [57]) such as controlled grazing (6.06 ± 3.04) and prescribed burning (4.86 ± 3.11), which are new for Algeria and not known by personnel, were rather poorly rated. A similarly low rating was given to restrictions on public activities (6.00 ± 2.74).

## Conflicts

Using a scale from 1 to 4, respondents were asked to rate to what degree conflicts hinder the management and prevention of forest fires, with 1 and 2 expressing a low degree and 3 and 4 a high degree. Conflicts could be classified (Appendix 1.4): between groups of actors (e.g., urban and rural populations), but also within the same socio-professional group (e.g., among residents), and between people and the State, the latter represented by the foresters. In this case, conflicts are probably related to areas such as forests and parks where the interests of local residents and the State diverge. The main conflicts occur between livestock and forest owners, followed by conflicts between residents in the WUI and the public administration. The results confirm the findings by other authors ([56], [51]) and are evidently related to the presence of conflicting forms of land use.

## Open-ended questions

Responses provided to the open-ended questions can be grouped within the following categories: awareness; finance; firefighting organization; legislative measures; policy; population; prevention; silvicultural measures; and training and recruitment. Because responses are rather difficult to synthesize, we translated their text from French or Arab into English and created a word cloud where the importance of each term is directly related with their font size. The results of this representation are shown in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 - The cloud of most frequently cited words (50 words).

“Prevention” was identified as the most frequent and important word. This result indicates that foresters in Algeria are well aware of the relative importance of prevention contrasting with current governmental policies, which are mainly oriented towards improving the technical extinction apparatus.

## SWOT matrix of forest fire management in Algeria

SWOT analysis permits the formulation of suggestions to improve prevention and control strategies. For its implementation, results from the survey and other research ([33]) were utilized. Such analysis identified the most important internal and external factors and, consequently, derived strategies. A list is presented in Tab. 2, which includes only the more prominent items of SWOT components, each of which is identified by the capital letter of the component and a progressive number (e.g., S1, S2, etc.).

Tab. 2 - Relevant factors identified in each SWOT category.

Strengths Weaknesses
S1. Algeria has specific policies and laws for wildfire fighting
S2. Importance of forest sector in local job creation
S3. Important fire fighting apparatus mainly based on infrastructures (e.g., firebreaks, water points, lookout towers, forest roads and fire trails)
S4. Reforestation program of 1 245 900 ha with an investment effort of U.S.\$ 133 million
S5. Projects of Rural Development (PPDR) for job creation
W1. Increasing frequency of large fires
W2. Insufficient awareness of residents living in WUI areas
W3. Increase in fire number within WUI areas
W4. Increased number of fires caused by the careless burning of stubble, weeds and garbage
W5. Insufficient maintenance of infrastructures
W6. Inadequate regulations governing preventive measures
W7. Protection against wildfires limited to fighting activities
W8. Lack of funding for fire prevention through silvicultural measures
W9. The distribution of personnel not meeting the risk criteria
W10. Lack of personnel in relation to the country’s forest extension
W11. Multiplicity of actors in fighting apparatus
W12. Lack of adequate penalties against culprits in general forest legislation
W13. Spontaneous and limited scope of awareness programs
W14. Lack of weather stations
W15. Non-involvement of citizens when faced with a fire
W16. Lack of adequate training of personnel
W17. Inadequate knowledge of high risk areas
Opportunities Threats
O1. Creation of more jobs and income for local residents
O2. Dedicated legislation for the WUI areas
O3. Increasing the extinction efficiency ensuring a fast attack; improvement of auxiliary tools (maps, GPS, etc.)
O4. Management plans for all state forests
O5. Increase the number and improve allocation of human resources; permanent training of technical staff
O6. Use expert tactics and preventive fire in forest management
O7. Severe fire police
O8. Approval of the new Forestry Code
O9. Finalization of the forest registry to update the ownership of forests
O10. Information and awareness campaigns
O11. Increase citizens’ awareness about consequences and social costs of fires
O12. Introduce controlled grazing
O13. Scientific and technical know-how on wildfire control
T1. Suppression-oriented actions more important than prevention
T2. Forest belonging to no one in the mind of the average citizen
T3. Loss of traditions in the knowledgeable use of fire
T4. Increasing arson where the land is of great value
T5. Land use changes cause an increasing number of fires
T6. Overgrazing in forests
T7. Climate change and thus expected risk that the phenomenon could worsen
T8. Rural exodus and suburbanization
T9. Low level of interaction between researchers and managers
T10. Forest management not given high priority on the political agenda

The qualitative assessment identified 5 factors of strengths (S), 17 of weaknesses (W), 13 of opportunities (O) and 10 of threats (T). Weaknesses were the most significant determinant, with an overall importance of about 38%.

## SWOT strategy formulation

A SWOT matrix conceptually indicates distinct alternative strategies, based on the interactions of different variables. Four sets of strategies can be formulated by pairing each of the internal factors with each of the external ones, namely: (i) SO (maxi-maxi strategies): internal strength(s) realize the available external opportunities (ideal case); (ii) ST (maxi-mini strategies): internal strength(s) minimize the potential impact of external threats; (iii) WO (mini-maxi strategies): reduce internal weakness(es) or develop missing strength(s) to realize external opportunities; and (iv) WT strategies (mini-mini strategies): reduce internal weakness (es) and avoid or minimize external threats (defensive strategy, worst case scenario - [59], [50], [19], [41], [46]).

## Evaluation of possible strategic options

The final step of our SWOT analysis was to suggest possible options for improving the efficiency of the wildfire control apparatus in Algeria. Combinations of SWOT factors yielded comprehensible results (e.g., W1, O3 means that Weakness 1 and Opportunity 3 have been considered).

## WO and WT strategies

• Given the increased frequency of large fires it is mandatory to adopt modern fighting techniques, such as suppression fires and aerial means, and to improve the infrastructure network to ameliorate access to forests (W1, O3). It is also important to avoid the loss of traditional knowledge in the use of fire (TFU, traditional fire use) as a management tool (W1, T3) by incorporating people from the countryside (experts in TFU) into firefighting crews.
• An impressive network of infrastructures (firebreaks, water supply points, forest roads and fire trails) has been realized in Algeria, but it lacks the necessary and timely periodical maintenance, which alone can assure continued efficiency.
• It is mandatory to maintain infrastructures (W5, O3) also by exploiting the traditional knowledge of fire use (W5, T3) and using controlled grazing (W5, O12; W5, T6). These measures need to be accompanied by a better use of fire as a smart prevention tool (W3, O6) under the form of prescribed burning, which should be gradually introduced (W5, T3) and accompanied by appropriate training of personnel.
• Resolving the irregularity of funding is a priority for improving prevention in order to eliminate poor maintenance of prevention infrastructures (W5, W8, O3).
• An increase in the number of fires within WUIs is not accompanied by an adequate awareness of risk by inhabitants. Possible mitigation measures are information campaigns targeted at WUI inhabitants (W2, O2, O10, O11) and the inclusion of fire smart WUI management in urban plans for fire prevention (W3, O2).
• The careless or illegal burning of straw and other residues, but mainly the dumping and subsequent burning of garbage in or near forests is among the most frequent causes of wildfire ignition ([36]). A different and wiser use of burning under legal regulations should therefore be disciplined by the new Forestry Code (W4, T3 and W4, O8).
• Preventive silvicultural measures, such as thinning, pruning, and local shrub clearings, are efficacious but costly; incentives and obligations (W6, O3) should therefore be introduced within the Forestry Code (W6, O8) and public forest management plans (W6, O4).
• Preventive silvicultural measures as above must also be promoted to foster the resistance and resilience of forest areas, if affected by fire (W8, O1).
• Privately owned forests must be clearly identified by the Cadastre (W6, O9), and owners should benefit from an appropriate regime of incentives. This could create job opportunities for local residents (W6, O1) and help to reduce the popular belief that the forest is nobody’s land (W6, T2). When people have formal and legally recognized ownership of resources and can see long-term benefits from their land management, they will tend to be more concerned with the protection and sustainable management of those resources ([13]).
• The national policy for wildfire control gives excessive emphasis to fire extinction at the detriment of fire prevention (W7, O3), since suppression-oriented actions seem to prevail (W7, T1). Future scenarios of higher risk, intensity and frequency of wildfires (W7, T7) confirm the restriction of suppressive actions and the opportunity presented by not limiting policy choices to suppression efforts but by investing more in fire management and prevention.
• The inadequate distribution of personnel among and within the different wilaya does not align with the risk criteria, and the number of personnel is substantially low if related to forest extension. We suggest an increase (W8, W9, W10, O5) in budget levels and DGF staff (W9, O3), with personnel distribution focused in priority areas identified by fire risk maps (W14, O5). This could also lead to more job and income opportunities for local residents (W9, O1).
• A plethora of stakeholders are currently involved within the wildfire fighting apparatus. This results in an inefficient multiplication of decision centers, at the detriment of extinction efficiency (W11, O3), and calls for a reduction of stakeholders and a well-defined chain of command and control.
• Lack of adequate penalties against culprits in current forest legislation and extremely low fines have no deterrent effect, but rather represent a challenge for repeat offenders to ostentatiously break the law. A review and update of the monetary revaluation of fines and a reformulation of the penal system for voluntary fire setting should be introduced within the new Forestry Code together with more severe actions on the part of fire police (W12, O7, O8).
• Authorities must be given the tools to reduce arson where forested land is of great value due to urban sprawl, a situation that is being caused by rural exodus and suburbanization (W12, T4, T8).
• Authorities must be given the tools to contain the increasing number of deliberate fires caused by illegal land use changes (W3, T5), which are not currently prosecuted.
• Awareness campaigns appear rather generalist, abstract and not oriented to change the negligent behavior of specific social groups. It seems mandatory to invest in awareness campaigns that are clearly targeted (W13, O10), professionally projected and inspired by so-called social communication.
• Campaigns must increase citizens’ awareness of the impacts of fires and the consequences and social costs of fires (W13, O11), as well as the high cost of post-fire relief and recovery.
• Campaigns should influence public understanding and change citizens’ largely indifferent attitude to wildfires (W15, O11). For example, campaigns should encourage more collaboration from the public. A more active participation in firefighting operations from the public is sometimes inadvisable, since it could imply important operational problems mainly related to safety. Promoting associations of properly trained volunteers is an option that is showing good results in several countries.
• Weather stations are currently irregularly distributed, and their main objective is to collect data for agricultural purposes. It seems necessary to install a network of automatic weather stations within forested areas to facilitate the calculation of fire danger and risk indexes, which could improve preparedness for wildfire events and extinction efficiency (W14, O3; W17, O3, O6).
• Lack of adequate training of personnel means there is difficulty in obtaining more efficient prevention and suppressive actions. Researchers and managers occupy two distinct and largely unconnected worlds, which are separated by mutual distrust (W16, T9). It is advisable to integrate and combine scientific and technological know-how with new training (W16, O5, O13), thus enabling personnel to employ expert tactics and modern preventive fire use (suppression fires, prescribed burning) in forest management (W16, O6).
• Risk areas are irregularly distributed across the territory, and the control apparatus is not currently aligned with this distribution. It is necessary to focus actions on specific high-risk areas (W17, O3), which are identified using risk-maps.

## ST and SO strategies

• Algeria has specific firefighting policies and laws. It seems necessary to update these policies and laws under the form of a modern and stringent discipline in regards to arson and negligent fire, including the creation of dedicated legislation for WUIs (S1, O2, O8) and an update of the Forest Cadastre and the new Forestry Code (S1, O9).
• The importance of the forest sector for local job and income creation is not well perceived as a priority within the current political agenda. This gap must be filled (S2, T10) as a subsidiary tool of PPDR (Projects of Rural Development).
• The important fire fighting apparatus and the impressive network of infrastructures must be integrated by a better interaction between researchers and managers (S3, T9) and in the scope of permanent training of personnel (S3, O5). Traditional knowledge in the use of fire must be exploited to develop and implement expert tactics and preventive fires, thereby improving extinction efficiency (S3, T3, O6).
• The ambitious reforestation program of 1245900 ha is a relevant strength because it demands an efficacious firefighting program, but it is not coherent for the state, due to the lack of management plans for state forests. All new afforestation areas must be endowed, from their project phase, with management plans that pay specific attention to fire prevention (S4, O4, O6). In such areas, forest management must receive high priority on the political agenda (S4, T10), which is inclusive of the need to increase employment and local income (S4, O1).
• PPDR are a powerful tool for local job creation (S5, O1), which in turn can be an efficacious means for facilitating a deeper involvement of local residents (S5, O11).

# Conclusions

A qualitative SWOT analysis based on the literature review, personal knowledge and the opinions of a number (N=228) of wildfire experts using questionnaire surveys allowed to explore the national fire control apparatus in Algeria and identify its strengths and weakness. One of the more significant findings emerged from this study is that increasing suppression efforts alone will not solve the forest fire problem, especially in the future scenarios of higher fire risk, frequency and intensity and of increasing numbers of large fires in WUIs ([24], [27]). Underpinning this study is the knowledge that fire exclusion-oriented policies need to be complemented with forest fire prevention management ([15], [16]), mainly in the form of fuel-reduction techniques and large-scale fuel management. This study highlights the need to further focus on wildfire preventive actions and to make prevention a permanent activity. Our results are therefore coherent with the recommendations of the “Athens Declaration on Forest Fires” ([38]) in the fields of research, communication and information, and education and training.

There are challenges and difficulties ahead, not least because wildfires are a very visible and immediate threat. This means that it is often more socially and politically expedient to commit resources to suppression activities than to address the issues involved in long-term fire prevention measures and management ([13]). In addition, preventive actions (mainly fuel-reduction techniques, including large-scale fuel management and fire prevention management of forests) are often less visible than suppression materials, such as firefighting tanker airplanes, 4WD vehicles and firefighting trucks, and therefore receive less political attention and are assigned fewer resources ([12]).

As a result of this study, Algerian foresters are aware of the opportunity to shift from a mere control policy to a more prevention-oriented one; they strongly call for a more pro-active approach on the part of the General Directorate of Forests. This viewpoint is in line with the opinions of foresters working in other countries. Forest fire prevention is actually considered to be one of the pillars of integrated, sustainable forest management ([43], [52], [53], [45]). Investments in suppression-oriented actions at the expense of prevention are considered a weakness in the SWOT analysis of wildfire legislation and policy for the Mediterranean region ([12]). Foresters’ participation in the survey permitted the identification of many obstacles to the implementation of a more efficacious control activity, suggesting reality-based strategic recommendations to overcome such obstacles. The results from our research are coherent with those obtained by the FireSmart project in EU countries ([17]) and with those observed in Europe in the frame of the European Integrated Project FIRE PARADOX (2006-2010), which provided recommendations for long-term policy measures able to encourage a shift in the current wildfire situation ([1], [25]). The lack of management in public and private forests, the view that fire prevention is judged to be more effective than extinction, the importance of training technical staff, the non-appropriate transfer of knowledge to forest fire prevention, and the importance of infrastructures are among the most important common issues, but are of course accompanied by specific differences.

Herein, we highlight the importance of the survey conducted among Algerian foresters. This is the first research paper for Algeria, and perhaps any MENA country, to have approached this sensitive subject. These foresters have an institutional monopoly on forest fire fighting and therefore refrain from publicly discussing their performance and opinions. Their collaborative participation in this survey is a cornerstone in the firefighting history of the country.

Most of the recommendations suggested, particularly those involving people from local communities, are fully applicable to other countries. The Community-Based Fire Management model ([13]), whose strategy is grounded on the substantial involvement of local communities in preventing, controlling or using fires (for controlling weeds, reducing the impact of pests and diseases, generating income from non-timber forest products, creating forage and hunting, etc.), is an interesting and potentially useful approach for helping managers and decision makers in Algeria and other countries of North Africa and at MENA level to address wildfire issues. Significant improvements could be achieved by promoting more active participation by the public in firefighting operations; for instance, in establishing associations of properly trained volunteers, an option that is producing good results in several countries.

# Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the Direction Générale des Forêts (DGF) of Algeria, whose collaboration permitted this research, and all experts (foresters) that accepted to participate. We thank the reviewers for their constructive comments, which helped us to improve the manuscript. We also thank Dr. Robert Stacey, PhD, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, UK, for improving the quality of this manuscript.

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#### Authors’ Affiliation

(1)
Ouahiba Meddour-Sahar
Department of Agricultural Sciences, University Mouloud Mammeri, Box 17 RP, 15000 Tizi Ouzou (Algeria)

#### Corresponding author

Ouahiba Meddour-Sahar
o.sahar@yahoo.fr

#### Citation

Meddour-Sahar O (2015). Wildfires in Algeria: problems and challenges. iForest 8: 818-826. - doi: 10.3832/ifor1279-007

#### Paper history

Accepted: Dec 10, 2014

First online: Mar 25, 2015
Publication Date: Dec 01, 2015
Publication Time: 3.50 months

© SISEF - The Italian Society of Silviculture and Forest Ecology 2015

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