Nepal’s forest fires

Nepal’s forest fires

11 February 2017

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NEPAL— – Forest fire, during dry season last year, hit the headlines in Nepal – the Himalayan country ravaged by a deadly earthquake in 2015. At least 15 deaths were reported and confirmed by multiple sources.

It was not the first time that Nepal experienced fire. In 2009, 13 armymen were killed in the central region of Ramechhap when they were dousing the flames.

Nepal suffers severely from crawling and crown fire. According to Shree Baral, Nepal’s Under-Secretary at the Department of Forest, 268,618 hectares of forest were damaged by the fires in the period from January-May 2016.

According to the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) – a national network of forest users in Nepal – 50 districts were affected and 12,000 community forests were damaged in 2016.

“What worried me the most was that the fires spread to the village. More than 419 households and 47 cattle sheds were damaged in Kapilbastu district alone,” said Subhash Devkota, the forest fire focal point at FECOFUN.

Bishwo Mani Acharya, the former District Forest Officer of Dadeldhura, estimated that 5,000 hectares of forest in Dadeldhura, a far western hill district in Nepal, were affected in 2016. He noted that 90 out of 455 community forests were damaged.


Due to poor monitoring and reporting systems, it was challenging for authorities to collect details of the damage in a timely manner.

Today, approximately 35 percent of community forest users groups employ mobile forest guards, locally known as ghumtipalee. If fires break out, they report to the respective committees. As for government channels, forest offices throughout the country are their go-to mechanism to monitor and report incidents.

Additionally, a satellite-assisted monitoring system helps in site detection. According to Sudip Pradhan, Coordinator of the Regional Database at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) – a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge-sharing center – a well-functioning system is in place to detect forest fire incidents in Nepal.

The system uses Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometre (MODIS) data, and disseminates the information to concerned 
authorities immediately through short message services (SMS) and emails. NASA’s Aqua and Terre satellites, which are equipped with MODIS sensors, fly over Nepal two times per day, enabling ICIMOD’s fire monitoring system to send fire
alerts up to four times within a 24-hour time span.

However, some critics point out that it does not offer adequate verification opportunities.

“It is not the best, but it is better than nothing,” said Baral. “We at least can track the sites.”


According to a study conducted by the FAO, 95 percent of forest fires are manmade and can easily be prevented.

In Nepal, farmers traditionally use fire as a tool for burning agricultural residues– straw, stalks, husks, etc.- to prepare their farms for the next crop cultivation. Fires are thus likely to spread from farm to forest.

Other major causes are abandoned cooking fires and the carelessness of smokers. Firewood collectors sometimes throw burning butts into the jungle. These butts can catch fire on dried leaves and twigs during drought season.

Thus, most foresters and forest activists believe that raising awareness is key in the fight against forest fire.

“Despite a week-long awareness raising campaign led through local radio and newspapers, approximately 10,000 hectares of forest were still affected by forest fire in Piuthan alone,” said Dhananjaya Lamichhane, the former District Forestry Officer of Piuthan. “The forest fire claimed two lives and injured 13 others.”

Some community forest groups have since been given fire-fighting tools. But these tools are not optimal. Apasara Chapagain, a veteran forest conservation activist and former FECOFUN chair, said: “People are not using tools that they received. I strongly believe that awareness and preparation must be taken into account while developing a realistic anti-forest fire strategy.”

“In many cases, people cause fires in Nepal,” said Himlal Baral, a forest and environment scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) who specializes in forest management, landscape restoration and ecosystem services.

“Learning successful lessons from community-based forestry, it is logical to practice community-based fire management in Nepal via engaging local communities from all aspects of fire planning and management.

“This requires the effective engagement of all stakeholders, especially local communities in fire management planning, which not only helps to understand the range of causes, but also their role in managing fire risk.”


As a result of last year’s fires, Nepal’s Department of Forest has been implementing a forest fire prevention program as an extra effort in 36 affected districts, according to Mohan Kafle, the department’s newly-appointed forest fire focal point.

“The department under this program has allocated approximately USD 1 million for the current fiscal year,” he said.

The budget covers the construction of a forest fire control room, media mobilization, the construction of ponds and puddles, and other initiatives.

Nepal’s experience with this new program can serve other places with similar context and topography, as it is not the only country affected by recurring forest fire. In fact, an average of 19.8 million hectares of forests are reported to be significantly affected annually by forest fires, according to the FAO.

SINGAPORE, Feb 9 — People in Singapore are willing to cough up nearly 1 per cent of their annual income in order to guarantee the absence of transboundary haze for a year, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found.

In total, they are willing to pay US$643.5 million (RM2.8 billion) a year — large enough to make a “substantive impact on the problem” if used for land conservation and restoration, the researchers state in a paper published in February’s issue of the journal,Environmental Research Letters.

The paper’s authors, Yuan Lin, Lahiru Wijedasa and Dr Ryan Chisholm, wrote: “Our results indicate that Singaporeans experience sufficiently negative impacts of air pollution (in) their day-to-day life, or personal health during haze periods, that they are willing to trade off personal financial gain for improvements in air quality.”

Transboundary haze is a long-standing problem in the South-east Asian region, largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland as well as companies and farmers in Indonesia using fire to clear land.

Singapore experienced its worst haze episode in 2015 from September to November, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels.

Since then, Indonesia has renewed efforts to prevent fires, although a state of emergency was declared last month in Riau province over forest and land fires.

The economic impact of haze pollution here has been estimated using cost-benefit analysis before, but the researchers said that the figures could be an under-estimate because they exclude impacts — such as non-hospitalisable health effects — that are difficult to infer from economic data.

The 2015 haze episode was estimated to have cost Singapore S$700 million (RM2.19 billion) in losses.

The NUS researchers surveyed 390 people in public areas from November 2015 to February 2016 on their willingness to pay, should the Singapore Government be able to guarantee good air quality year-round.

The participants, from various age and income groups, were given options ranging from 0.05 per cent to 5 per cent of their annual income, after they indicated if they were willing to support such a haze mitigation fund.

The average person’s willingness to pay was an estimated 0.97 per cent of his/her annual income.

However, about three in 10 respondents were unwilling to pay even the minimum option of 0.05 per cent of their annual income.

Wijedasa said that one of the solutions proposed for the haze problem is payments for ecosystem services.

“This could take the form of richer nations aiding better land management and restoration by making regular payments.

“Indonesia has estimated that it needs US$2.1 billion to help restore two million hectares of peatland in (the country). They have currently only received US$50 million from Norway and US$17 million from the United States.

“Could this shortfall be filled by Singapore (and other countries in the region)?”

Tan Yi Han, who is not involved in the study and is co-founder of non-governmental organisation People’s Movement to Stop Haze, said that the findings are helpful and “should motivate the Singapore Government to spend on measures to prevent haze, such as a subsidy on certified sustainable palm oil, as well as aid to support peat restoration and protection efforts in Indonesia”.

His organisation’s survey last year found that more than nine in 10 respondents were willing to pay more for certified sustainable products to help mitigate the haze, Tan said.

Most were willing to pay 5 to 10 per cent more.

Consumers game to chip in to avoid any haze include Steven Lim, who is in his 40s and self-employed. How much he is willing to contribute would depend on the amount needed to make an impact.

“Maybe S$10? Multiplied by many individuals, it would be a lot,” Lim said, preferring that the money goes to the Indonesian government.

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El capitán del primer batallón de la Unidad Militar de Emergencias (UME), Emilio Arias, ha descrito como “dantescos” los efectos del incendio forestal en el paraje natural de la Sierra de Gata (Cáceres), aunque ha sido optimista en cuanto a su extinción al darse una situación “bastante favorable” en estos momentos. Fotogalería ALCALDE 11 Fotos La Sierra de Gata, tras el incendio “El incendio se dio por estabilizado y ahora mismo sólo hay pequeños focos que se reactivan por lo que la situación es bastante adecuada para intentar extinguir el fuego”, ha explicado Arias en una entrevista en COPE. Arias ha descrito como “dantesco” el efecto del fuego en una zona “donde el terreno era precioso”. El mando único del Plan Director del Infoex decidía este lunes mantener activo el Nivel 2 de peligrosidad en el incendio de Sierra de Gata ante las previsiones de viento y altas temperaturas. Las mismas predicciones indican que habrá una mejoría a partir de las primeras horas de la noche del lunes, según ha informado la Junta de Extremadura. Más de 200 efectivos se mantienen en la zona. Intentar llegar a la normalidad es “un tanto difícil”, y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños El incendio declarado el pasado jueves ha arrasado unas 7.500 hectáreas de alto valor agrícola, ambiental y paisajístico, de ahí que el Gobierno regional haya iniciado ya la evaluación de los daños y comenzado a preparar la recuperación de la zona. El director general de Medio Ambiente, Pedro Muñoz, ha afirmado que el incendio ha causado un “desastre” desde el punto de vista medioambiental ya que ha arrasado miles de hectáreas de pinar, olivar y pastos, además de haber producido cuantiosos daños materiales en algunas poblaciones. La asociación conservacionista SEO/Birdlife ha denunciado que el incendio afectó gravemente a especies amenazadas y a espacios protegidos de la Red Natura 2000, incluidos robledales, madroñales y castañares centenarios. Todo el área afectada es una zona ornitólogica de interés mundial. Por su parte, el alcalde de la localidad cacereña de Hoyos, Óscar Antúnez, ha alabado la participación ciudadana en el municipio para ayudar a los operarios del plan Infoex como “lo bonito dentro de la tragedia” y ha añadido que el “sentir general” de los ciudadanos de Sierra de Gata es de “frustración e indignación” tras el incendio forestal. El alcalde ha señalado que ha podido hablar con los vecinos de la localidad y que los “más afectados” son los que han perdido fincas o casas de campo, sobre todo una familia que ha perdido su domicilio de vacaciones habitual, que era una casa “recién reformada”. Asimismo, Óscar Antúnez ha indicado que intentar llegar a la normalidad es “un tanto difícil”, y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños, tanto la Mancomunidad de Municipios de Sierra de Gata como la Junta de Extremadura, para ver qué ayudas se pueden proporcionar y de qué modo, además de cuáles serán los medios disponibles. Por último, el primer edil de Hoyos ha explicado que los vecinos, “más allá de la lamentación”, deben intentar hacer “una vida normal”, aunque ha considerado que es muy difícil “dado el paisaje que tenemos”, ya que casi el 90% del término municipal está calcinado, ha indicado.

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