Forest fires posing a grave threat nationwide

Forest fires posing a grave threat nationwide

13 April 2014

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Nepal — A man died and his son were injured while trying to extinguish a forest fire in Durdimba, Panchthar district, on Friday evening.

While on April 6, a 20-year-old girl died in a wildfire in Surunga, Jhapa. In another incident, a 50-year-old man died while trying to put out a jungle fire in Dang on April 4.

Three people, including two children, lost their lives in a January 17 bushfire in Humla that left 10 people injured.

These are stray cases that point at risks wildfires pose to life and property.

Forest fires are a growing hazard in the country, which cause huge losses to the country in terms of human life, property and biodiversity every year. Experts estimate that wildfires destroy nearly two lakh hectares of forestland in the country every year.

According to data of the Nepal Forest Management Chapter, the country has witnessed 1,251 fire incidents since January. Yesterday alone, the country witnessed 161 fire incidents, the highest number of fires across the nation so far this year, according to data retrieved from NASA’s MODIS Satellite, which monitors global forest fire incidents.

Government records show that the country has witnessed 254 wildfires in the past two months that have affected 6,200 hectares of forestland.

During this period, Chitwan National Park and Parsa Wildlife Reserve saw 12 fires each, whereas Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park witnessed six fires and one fire, respectively.

Sixteen people have died, while 25 others have received injuries in the fires, including wildfires and domestic fires, that have broken out in various districts in the past two months. These fires have destroyed 573 houses and 395 cowsheds. A total of 137 cattle have died in these fires.

Generally, forest fires are high between January and April.

“This year, the incidents of fire appeared unusually earlier claiming three lives in January alone,” says Sundar Prasad Sharma, coordinator of UNISDR-Regional South Asia Wildland Fire Network. “As the second half of April is considered the peak time for wildfires, the next two weeks may be disastrous. We should be alert.”

The government had developed a Forest Fire Management Strategy in 2010 after a fire killed 49 people, including 13 Nepali Army personnel, in Ramechhap, in 2009. However, the strategy remains largely unimplemented. The government also lacks equipment and workforce to fight fires.

“The government has not taken forest fires as a disaster. This attitude should change. The government should allocate budget for fighting wildfires,” Sharma says.

The Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation is working to raise awareness on forest fires, but has no plans in place to rescue the victims.

30 houses gutted

KAPILVASTU: At least 30 houses and cowsheds were reduced to ashes after a fire broke out at Bhalbari VDC’s Thulo Bataniya in Kapilvastu Sunday. The blaze displaced 14 families. According to teacher Ashok Gupta, the fire was taken under control after some hours with the joint efforts of the fire engine of Kapilvastu Municipality, police and locals. Police said property worth Rs 30 lakh was destroyed.

Provide relief to victims: PMO secy

KATHMANDU: Krishna Hari Baskota, secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, on Sunday, directed stakeholders to work on resettlement of the fire victims and providing relief materials to them. Speaking at a meeting at the OPMCM, Baskota directed secretaries of Home Ministry, Finance Ministry, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and Local Development Ministry to stay on high alert with human resources and equipment necessary to combat fires. According to Baskota, the government has distributed relief materials worth Rs 5,000 to each of the affected families. Joint-Secretary at the Local Development Ministry, Gopi Khanal, underscored the need to form a different committee for management of fire engines and for purchasing firefighting equipment.

Still burning

GULMI: The wildfire that started at Gulmi’s Resunga forest from last Friday is yet to come under control. A joint security team has been working to put out the blaze with support from villagers, a local said, adding that windy weather conditions have obstructed the effort. According to Resunga Protection Committee, the fire has destroyed one-third of forestland at Fulbari and Janasewa forest.

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