On January 22, 2012 at 6:00 am in the morning, Ethiopians living in the Efoyta Market neighborhood in Addis Ababa woke up to a burning five-story building. More than 13 hours later, the fire had killed two people, destroyed 65,000 square miles including several homes and businesses, and produced damages amounting to ETB 20 million ($1 million), a huge amount in a country where nearly 30% of the population live on less than $1.90 a day.
From a young age we are taught that fires are dangerous and to be avoided. Yet, in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, fire is a well-known phenomenon. Our recent study titled Africa: the Fire Continent—commissioned under the TerrAfrica partnership—shows that many plant species and ecosystems in Africa benefit from fire and, indeed, need fire to remain healthy. It suggests that the deliberate use of fire must be an integral part of landscape management tools to preserve the health of Africa’s drylands.