Drought heightens forest-fire risk

Drought heightens forest-fire risk

30 March 2010

published by www.alertnet.org

Vietnam —    Vietnam is bracing for further forest fires because of the continuing drought.

“The increase in forest fires is one of the most severe and visible impacts of the drought,” Pham Manh Cuong, a senior forest and environmental officer with the Vietnamese Forestry Directorate, told IRIN in Hanoi on 30 March. Experts describe it as one of the worst the country has ever experienced.[see IRIN report: http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88320]

The Red River in the north of Vietnam is at its lowest level since records began in 1902 and salinization in the Mekong Delta has reached 70km inland in some places. The drought began last August and is being blamed on El Niño, a cyclical warming pattern. Government efforts “It’s the first time the government is dealing seriously with a drought,” Cristina Bentivoglio, a programme officer with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said. “It’s considered an emergency, especially in the north and the Mekong Delta.”

According to the UN, 22 provinces in Vietnam are on high alert for forest fires. More than 150 small and medium-sized fires have been reported, with about 1,600ha destroyed so far, according to a situation report dated 25 March. Provinces in the far north are the most affected, though areas of the Mekong Delta, a key agricultural area, are also under threat.

About 70 percent of forest fires are due to slash-and-burn farming techniques. “Poor or degraded” forests and those near dry agricultural fields or on sloping land are the most likely to burn, said Cuong.

The Forest Protection Department (FPD), under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, has invested in an early forest fire forecast system, with satellite capacity. “Forest fire warning maps are extracted from medium-resolution satellite images and weather information is updated on an hourly basis. These maps are very useful for detecting hotspots,” Cuong explained.

Fire forecasts are also being broadcast on local television and a hotline has been established. It is not known when Vietnam’s drought will break though the wet season is approaching in the north. Vietnam is affected by droughts every year, but this time it started earlier and will likely last longer. It is expected to last until the end of April, or the end of May in some provinces, the UN predicts. New reports quoting the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Water Resources Department state that this year, nearly 80,000 of the total 630,000ha of arable land in the north is at risk from drought and more than 5,700ha will be forced to shift to other crops needing less water.

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