Why scientists are worried about forest fire in India and Nepal?

For many weeks the haze of the forest fires has covered the mountains and the beauty of the lakes, you can say the visibility of the lake is almost shrunk.

An expert of the history of forests in the region Shekhar Pathak, “You can smell the haze from this side of the lake where I live. Not just the pine trees that are highly prone to fires, even the oak forests are burning and that means the situation is quite serious.”

However, the local area is badly affected by the forest fires and they couldn’t sleep several nights.

Kedar Avani of Banaa village in Pithoragarh district, the easternmost Himalayan district in the state mentioned, “We wake up in the middle of the night and check around the forests to make sure the fires are not approaching us. Fires have eaten up our haystacks and grass stored for our livestock, and now we fear our houses will be gutted too.”

He added that the fore was so strong that the heat of the fire can be felt from a distance of 20 meters. He also mentioned that there is no other way to put them out.

Highest forest fires

Scientist believes that the forest fires in some parts of northern India and neighboring Nepal which have become the strongest in the past 15years. However, the European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) mentioned that Uttarakhand’s forest fires emitted almost 0.2 megatonnes of carbon in the last one month in comparison to the record since 2013.

After analyzing the satellite pictures it is found that Nepal has emitted around 18 megatonnes of Carbon at the same time which is considered as the highest one since 2016 when it emitted around 27 megatonnes of carbon.

Mark Parrington, a Senior Scientist at CAMS mentioned, “This shows the intensity with which the fires are burning in the region and it is quite worrying.”

Around 20 people have been reportedly killed by the fires of Uttarakhand and Nepal. Almost hundreds and thousands of hectares of the forests are now assumed to have been razed although the official figures are yet to be published.

Count of forest fires in Uttarakhand within the last 7days

At a single point in the last month, almost 500 forest fires were recorded in Nepal. However, it is air quality which remained at hazardous levels for several days.

However, some of the Himalayan nation’s forests and national parks bring together India’s forested and protected areas which highlight that the fires can spread almost in both ways.

Prolonged dry spell

Moreover, most parts of north India and Nepal have seen an elongated dry spell within the past few months by leaving the forests “tinder dry”.

Mr. Pathak “It has neither rained nor snowed for several months now. That is why even oak forests are burning up – the ground they stand on is totally dry.”

Well, the leftover people in the region are worried is about the forest fires which are usually at the peak in the month of May. However, the fear is worst and yet to come.

Although the scientist mentioned that climate change can’t be directly blamed for only forest fires because it has the intensified dryness in the region.

Moreover, all the authorities in Nepal and Uttarakhand mentioned that several forest fires have been caused by the stubble by burning in agricultural lands in the adjoining forests.

Experts mentioned that the problems are not at all restricted within the weather and stubble burning. Vijendra Ajnabi, a natural resource management expert with Oxfam, who is based in India’s Chhattisgarh state mentioned, “Government planners usually think about forests just as carbon sinks. They often forget forest fires, and how they can become sources of carbon emissions. “Forest fires are yet to be a priority issue. That is why you don’t usually hear this being discussed in the parliament.”

Till now India’s National Disaster Management Authority has not identified forest fires as natural hazards. However, on its website, it has enlisted cyclone, tsunami, heatwave, landslide, floods, and earthquake which is under category.

As per the analysis done by the Forest Survey of India in 2019 highlights that around 36% of the country’s forests are prone to fires and it is almost the third of that is excessively vulnerable.

 Krishna Vatsa, a member of the NDMA, said, “The reason why we have not listed forest fires as natural hazards is because in India most of such fires are deliberately caused by people mainly for agricultural purposes and, therefore, it is an anthropogenic [man-made] hazard. But we do recognize that forest fires are becoming a serious hazard and that is why we are working with forest departments and other agencies of all the states to deal with the issue.”

Deficits in the forest fire services

As per the survey of the Standing Fire Advisory Committee, the NDMA in the past has already marked serious shortcomings in the country’s fire services. The committee has also found that there was around 80% of the deficiency in the firefighting as well as the rescue of the vehicles and a large number of fire services personnel within the country was around 96% which is less than what is needed.

DK Shami, an adviser and a senior official at India’s Directorate General of Fire Services mentioned, “We have made progress since those findings but we know we have to do much more. Then we had around 50,000 fire personnel and now we have more than 75,000 and growing.”

Aniruddh Jadeja, an environmental activist in the Kumaon district of Uttarakhand, said, “There is almost no preparedness on the part of the administration while the fires are becoming more and more intense. Our forests are so big and the number of staff in government forest departments is very limited. So they can barely do anything when there is a serious forest fire.”

Bharati Pathak, president of the Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal, said, “We hear about millions of dollars the country receives as climate finance from foreign donors, but nothing is being spent to prevent and fight forest fires. “We had earned global recognition as a success story of community forestry and now forest fires are threatening to undo all that.”

Prakash Lamsal, spokesperson at Nepal’s forest ministry mentioned, “With limited resources, we are doing our best but the fires are on difficult geography like mountain slopes and the dry weather and people deliberately causing fires have not helped. We all have seen how difficult it is to contain forest fires even in the developed world.”

 The help of local communities

As per the expert, local communities living within or close by could have helped in putting out the fire to an extent that didn’t happen.

Mr. Pathak said, “That is because there is a serious trust deficit between these communities and the forest administrations of the states. Many indigenous communities want their rights including access to forest resources to be respected and, therefore, there are tensions between them and forest administrations and that clearly has affected the fight against forest fires.”

However, the local communities from different forested areas of India have protested and also argued about their rights to forest lands and other resources which have been undermined and are also violated by conservation policies. Well, the authorities mentioned that they are protecting the forests as per the law.

Mr. Ajnabi mentioned, “Authorities usually put the blame [for forest fires] on communities but they can actually work with these local people to keep the fires out.”

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