Wildfires reach unprecendented scale

   Wildfires reach unprecendented scale

28 April 2009

published by www.kantipuronline.com

Nepal — The country has witnessed a series of devastating wildfires on an unprecedented scale spreading across the highly fire-prone pine forests in high altitudes. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) has listed Nepal as a most vulnerable country because of wildfires this year.

The wildfires that started last January have turned vast tracts of forests into barren lands. Worse, meteorologists say there is no possibility of rainfall in the immediate future. Sundar Sharma, coordinator of UNISDR-South Asia Wildland Fire Network, said, “This year, many big crown fires have completely destroyed our pristine Himalayan ecosystems,”.

According to him, about four hundred thousand hectares of land, including in conserved and community forest areas in 43 districts were destroyed and 41 people have also died in the wildfires.

This year, due partly to the long dry spell, the practice of ‘slash and burn’ agriculture method got out of control. This caused disastrous crown wildfires in the mid-hills and high altitude regions.

Fire had spread to at least four high altitude protected areas, including Annapurna, Kanchanjunga, Langtang and Makalu Barun national parks for an unusually long period, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation stated.

“The rising temperature due to global warming was another factor,” said Prem Kandel, an official at Forest Ministry.

Incidents of wildfire have increased three-fold this year. For instance, by April 26 this year, wildfires were spotted in 422 different places while the number was 155 in the same period in 2007.

Experts stressed on launching massive awareness programmes at the community level for proper management of ‘slash and burn’ practice used in forest areas.

Likewise, demarcation of fire lines and ban on inflammable substances that kindle fires should be put in place at the earliest.

“There is no institutional mechanism to deal with wildfires in the country. Central and district level coordination should be developed in order to tackle the problem of wildfires,” said Sharma.

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