Increased Risk of Forest Fires in Himalayan Region

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This year much higher incidence of forest fires has been reported from Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Generally the risk becomes high only in the summer season but this year the risk started during winter and has already recorded very high damage at the time of writing on April 4. To get an idea of the extent of damage let us see what leading Hindi newspapers  have reported on this issue ( Chandigarh editions dated April 4).

Dainik Bhaskar reports on the front page – 1200 hectare forests have been destroyed in Uttarakhand. Forest fires have reached important cities like Uttarkashi and Srinagar so that an alert has been declared. 20 forests of Nainital are on fire.  According to Forest Survey of India the maximum number of forests during the period November to March were recorded this year. There were 470 such recorded incidents while only 39 were recorded during the previous winter. Some local officials have  given an even higher figure.

Giving one reason this newspaper says that rainfall has been 70% less than the norm during the last two months. This has led to dry grass and leaves which catch fire very soon.

However this reason must be balanced against the fact that there were also unseasonal heavy floods in some parts of Uttarakhand in February which caused  a lot of damage. As far as damage from disasters is concerned, this year has seen the worst of both worlds so far ( floods and fires).

In another report from Nahan, Himachal Pradesh this newspaper reports—While forest fires have been simmering around the Villa Round tourist attraction for 3 days, on  April 3 this reached the tourist spot and several trees were burnt…In another area Chunvi Chaarna dense forests are on fire. This went beyond control due to daylong windy conditions. All efforts of forest department and local people to extinguish fires could not succeed. The fire is advancing towards Churdhar sanctuary.  This will endanger a vast forest area further and also the lives of a very large number of wild animals. Pastoral people are worried about their livelihood.

Amar Ujala newspaper, reporting on Himachal incidents, said  a big fire has erupted in the forest of Sheetalpur in Baddi area. An attempt to control it by creating fire-line did not succeed and it continued to spread in windy conditions, leading to destruction of flora and fauna. Another report said that forest fires created havoc in many parts of Nalagarh region on April 3. Several fires earlier too had created a lot of destruction in this region even before the advent of summer, this report added.

These reports on forest fires published on a single day indicate the extent to which local people, farm animals and wild animals all are experiencing much higher risk of forest fires. I addition these lead to a big increase in carbon dioxide emissions.

Clearly much higher attention needs to be given to the task of fire prevention on a continuing basis. The budget for this should be increased and there should be much better co-ordination between officials and local people. A routine approach will not work any longer. Much more monitoring on continuing basis and preventive measures are needed. As past experience has shown when adequate precautions and preventive measures are taken and there are arrangements in place to control the fires at an early stage , then it has been possible to achieve encouraging results.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author who has  been involved with several social movements of hill areas.



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