Nepal– In what is being billed as one of the most destructive series of wildfires in the past five years, 229 bushfires broke out in different parts of the country very recently. The fires that occurred in the past three weeks killed one person and turned around 800 hectares of public and community owned forests into barren fields.
Satellite images released by the US-based National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) show 65 forest fires in different districts in the past two weeks (March 1-14).
On Monday, the country witnessed 58 forest fires, the highest number of fires in a day this year within a span of 24 hours.
In 2009, NASA listed Nepal as a country most vulnerable to wildfires. On April 25, 2009, the country recorded the highest number of wildfires in a day with fires spotted in 358 places.
The fires killed 58, 45 and 1 persons in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively. Records reveal that about 60 percent of such fires occur in the two dry months of March and April.
A massive wildfire that broke out in forests in Dolakha district on Saturday destroyed 400 hectares of land, while similar fires destroyed 195 hectares of land in Terhathum and hundreds of hectares in Myagdi, Dhankuta, Kaski and Kathmandu valley in the past three weeks.
However, despite the destruction and the risks involved, the government has not included wildfires in its disaster list. As such, the government lacks any preparedness plan on wildfires so far. The government prepared the Forest Fire Management Strategy in 2010, but it has failed to bring in an action plan to implement the strategy.
Sundar Sharma, coordinator of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) South Asia Wildland Fire Network, said that given the high incidents of wildfires in Nepal, the action plan is a must.
Meanwhile, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation Ram Prasad Lamsal said his ministry is working to bring in such action plan in the next two months.
Rudra Prasad Khadka, the under-secretary at the Disaster Management Section under the Ministry of Home Affairs, said there is lack of vision and adequate technical and financial resources to address the growing hazards caused by wildfires. Community forest users groups have a key role to play in disaster management and in coming up with measures to control forest fires.
According to Khadka, the formulation of the Disaster Risk Management Act, which is under discussion in the Cabinet, is expected to bring about a drastic change when it comes to addressing the various aspects of disasters, including wildfires.
Khadka said the proposed Act focuses on preparedness, mitigation measures and effective response and recovery strategies, while an earlier provision only focused on response mechanism.
Experts say improper practice of the slash and burn agriculture method in forests, lack of sensitisation and awareness programmes at the community level, carelessness in the use of inflammable substances and effective plans on demarcation of fire lines inside the forests are major causes of wildfires.