Sunday, 11 April, 2021

Fighting Forest Fires

The thick smog has again blanketed the sky across the country from early Wednesday morning, with the people wearing warm clothes to beat unusual cold. The weather normally starts to be hot around this time of the year but it is still a bit chilly, thanks to the thick haze which has obstructed the sunlight. It has become feeble and pallid. The people have experienced difficulty in breathing and have experienced burning sensations in the eyes. About a week ago, all educational institutions were shut down for four days after the air pollution hit alarming levels. The continuous prevalence of polluted air has posed a threat to human health on the one hand and on the other it has tarnished the image of the Valley known for its clean atmosphere and mild temperature. For the foreign tourists, the warm sun and cool breeze are among the attractions to set foot on the Valley.

Some days ago the capital city and other parts of the country witnessed light to moderate rainfall that cleared the smog to some extent but again the air is now polluted with haze much to the consternation of the people. Experts state that the worst air quality is mainly caused by the wildfires raging in 700 places across the country. On Monday, the Valley’s denizens once again breathed the worst air, with Air Quality Index (AQI) standing at 256, according to Drishti Kathmandu. AQI of 200 to 300 is considered as highly harmful to health. It is not only the Valley but many parts of the country are enduring worst polluted air. The smoke from numerous forest fires, sand dust blowing from the Arabian and Indian deserts, cross-border industrial pollution and emissions from ever rising number of vehicles in the Valley have led to deterioration of the air quality.

Scientific studies have revealed that wildfires cause substantial increases in gaseous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, polluting the large swathes of areas within a short span of time. This year winter was unusually dry with only 15 per cent of the normal precipitation occurring in January and February, making most parts of hills prone to incidents of fire. Similarly, farmers in India and Nepal burn crop residues as part of preparing the fields to sow maize during this period. As the wildfires have become an important factor of air pollution, it has become urgent to fight it with all available means and resources. There are many ways and strategies to douse the raging fires in the forests but the application of modern technology and equipment is quite effective to this end.

The other day Prime Minister and Minister for Defense KP Sharma Oli directed the concerned agencies to use airplanes and helicopters to control wildfires. According to the news report of this daily, PM Oli said that the existing units of fire brigades and human resources were not sufficient to control fire on large scale and in remote forest areas so homework should be carried out to bring in multi-purpose helicopters or aircraft. This requires installing fire extinguishers in the existing airplanes or helicopters in the country, with the Nepali Army taking the lead in this task. But there is no room for complacency and the authorities must swing into action to make preparations for the coming years given the gravity of the problem caused by the wildfires.