Nepal– Wildfires have been raging across the country since the onset of summer, with fire alerts dramatically spiking of late and number hitting a historic high on Sunday.
According to a satellite image on active fire data released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) on Sunday, 457 fire incidents (including land and forest) across the country with more concentration in the Tarai districts destroyed forests spread over hundreds of hectares of land and posed a significant threat to human settlements.
Previously, on April 25, 2009, the country had recorded the highest number of wildfires in a day, with blazes spotted at 358 places. The fire alerts though came down to 280 on Monday, experts have warned of increased fire incidents in coming days, as April is considered the peak fire month in the country.
In the past one week, at least two persons have been killed and over 500 house and sheds have been destroyed by fires in the various parts of the country.
Around 20 percent (around 1.3 million hectares) of the total forest-cover in the country, particularly in the Chure and mid-hill districts, including Sindhuli, Arghakhanchi, Rupandehi, Mahottari, Dhanusha, Bardiya and Dang, have been severely affected by raging fires in the past one week, said Resham Dangi, director general at the Department of Forests (DoF). In Sindhuli district, around 40 percent of the forest was destroyed by fire since Saturday, while in Arghakhanchi, Mahottari and Dang, around 20 percent of the total forests in the respective districts have been destroyed in the past couple of days, he said.
Almost all national parks and wildlife reserves in the Tarai and Chure regions, including Banke, Bardiya, Chitwan and Parsa, were burning on Monday, destroying forests and threatening wildlife and human settlements, according to the DoF.
The fire situation is out of control. If the dry spell continues with no rains, we are likely to experience a state of emergency in coming days, said Dangi.
On Monday, a team of the Nepal Army and Nepal Police, along with local communities and authorities, were struggling to control a raging jungle fire in Rupandehi district.
Every year, forest and land fires destroy hundreds of hectares of forests and cause huge economic loss. April and May are considered the peak season when almost 80 percent of total forest fires occur.
Forest and land fires are raging uncontrollably across the country, said Sundar Sharma, coordinator at UNISDR-Regional South Asia Wildland Fire Network.
In 2009, Nasa listed Nepal as a country most vulnerable to wildfires.
With the start of dry season since March, the country on average has reported 40-50 incidents within 24-hour period, but the number significantly increased to 257 on April 9 within same period.
Fire is still not acknowledged as seriously as other environmental disasters are. There is no dedicated programme to ensure preventive and mitigation measures, including awareness, capacity building and equipment to deal with fire incidents in the country, Sharma said.