Douse Forest Fires


Each year in the dry months from mid-March to mid-May, the news of forest fires and loss of lives, property, biodiversity and soil quality make the headlines. But the preparedness and contingency plans to combat this scourge is not up to the mark. On the one hand, due to the sustained conservation efforts, Nepal's forest coverage has increased from 26 per cent to almost 45 per cent in the last 25 years. This has led to increase in wildlife, and flora and fauna significantly. On the other, failure to contain such incidents has dented the conservation efforts. Rising forest fires persist as a significant threat to the on-going sustainability of forest recovery and conservation endeavours.

In recent years, the cases of forest fire have surged in frequency and intensity, imperilling the biodiversity, human settlements, ecological balance and quality of air. More than 115 individuals have died in separate fire incidents across the country in this year’s dry season alone. The tragic deaths of three army personnel while fighting a fire in Tipla Masta Bhawani community forest shows that we lack enough preparations, training, equipment and strategies to combat forest fires, and  ensure safety of the local people and those deployed in fire fighting. 

As of Friday evening, the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Authority (NDRRMA) reported that a total of 131 incidents of forest fires had occurred within last 24 hours in 28 districts. Despite the heightened likelihood of wildfires during dry season, there seems to be a serious lack of awareness and emergency readiness on the part of authorities and the communities. Sometimes a cigarette butt, thrown by a careless smoker, can set entire dry forest ablaze. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority has predicted that incidents of fires this year will be higher than that of last year. 

Prolonged drought, recklessness and windy weather have been attributed for the increased risks of fires in the forests as well as settlements. Communities living near the forest areas with houses having thatched roofs need to be very cautious during these dry moths both to protect themselves and the woodland in their vicinity which is directly linked to their livelihood. Of late, forest fires have also worsened air quality in the surrounding districts and urban centres, including the Kathmandu Valley. The Valley is often labelled as one of the most polluted cities in terms of air quality, causing respiratory ailments among the people. 

The three tiers of the government need to work in tandem for the sustainable mitigation of fire risks. The government should come up with effective strategies and fire fighting infrastructure, plans and preparedness. Enhancing the capabilities of local government, providing training to the local residents and supplying essential fire fighting equipment to the local communities can mitigate fire hazards to a significant level. Public awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the risks of forest fires, the importance of fire prevention practices, and the consequences of deliberately igniting forest fire are very important to ensure fire safety. 

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