Nepal has witnessed severe wildfire incidents in 2009. 420 hotspots were detected in Nepal in past 24 hours in 25 April 2005 alone (Image 2). Five people died and 3 seriously injured in new forest fires in Gulmi district of Nepal in 25 April 2009, just 48 hours after a blaze that had killed 13 soldiers in Ramechhap district of Nepal.
After this event Government of Nepal has initiated dialogue to declare Wildfire Crisis in Nepal (source: several local media news). Moreover, the media highlighted many wildfire incidents and its consequences on economy, human being, culture and ecology. High frequency and intensity crown fires in Himalayan National Parks and Conservation Areas, community and Government Managed Forests occurred for the first time in history in this fire season.
A total of 41 people were reported dead, 12 seriously injured, 53 houses and 21 sheds were completely destroyed, 315 domestic animals reported dead and a total of 508 families have been affected. The estimated total loss of personal properties is above NRs 123,415,000 (1 USD = about NRs 81) due to the uncontrolled forest fires. The loss could be manifold if losses of timber and other forest products including wild animals and medicinal herbs were included. According to the news reports, 206042 hectares of forested area have been either completely burnt or severely damaged. Many endangered wild animal including red panda, musk deer etc. have been killed. Hundreds of valuable medicinal plant species in many burnt areas have been completely destroyed (According to the news reports upto 19 April 2009). But the national capability to deal with these wildfires is insufficient. Moreover, a detailed assessment of damages has not been started yet.
In total 1859 hotspots were detected and 138 burning days were found throughout the country from 1 January to 26 April 2009 (data from FIRMS-MODIS/UMD/NASA). The daily fire incidence data revealed that the fires incidences are likely to decrease in coming days (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Daily fire incidences (Data source: FIRMS-MODIS/UMD/NASA)
Image 1: 420 fires detected over the past 24 hours in Nepal (Source: FIRMS-MODIS/UMD/NASA, Date: 25 April 2009,04:50:00
Asian Brown Cloud (ABC) and Regional Climate
Transboundary wildfires and haze pollution are another emerging issue which needs to be addressed collectively.
On 25 April 2009, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer(MODIS) on NASAsTerra satellite composite image caught a glimpse of a rare event of large incident of forest fires in the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal.
The image is centered on Nepal and Uttarancha State of India and shows the towering Himalaya Mountains arcing through the Hindu-Kush Himalaya region.
Image 2: Haze primarily coming from vegetation fires in the high altitude Himalayan region. The smokes is blocked by the range of Himalaya and confined to the south of the range. (source: MODIS Rapid Response System (opened with KMZ filefor GoogleEarth), 25 March 2009).
Wildfires in the region contributed to a tick blanket of smoke hunging over the south of Hindu-Kush Himalaya mainly south of Nepal and the north and eastern region of India on 25 April 2009, when the MODIS on NASAs Terra satellite passed over head and captured this image (Image 2).
The cloud is considered mainly due to the vegetation fires (compare Image 2 with Image 1), urban and industrial pollutions, agricultural burning, and bush clearing. These so called brown clouds have a major impact on air quality, human health (lung, heart, skin and eye diseases), regional climate, and natural resources.
In the recent months the government of Nepal has received initial assistance by the Germany-based Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), which is working under the auspices of the United Nations international Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the German government and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) to build capacities in forest fire management in the country and collaboratively withing the South Asia region. These activities and projects have been designed in anticipation of the increasing drought and fire problems in the region.