Government neglect fuels annual wildfires, costing lives and homes 

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On March 16, a wildfire that spread into a settlement in Bhojpur Municipality-12 gutted six houses. Bishal Karki, Nar Bahadur Karki and Padam Karki could only watch as the fire destroyed their home. All they could do was pray they were still alive.

Dal Kumar Rai, the information officer of the District Police Office, Bhojpur, stated that the nearby forest fire escalated due to strong winds, causing it to spread into the settlement and ultimately destroying the homes.

On the same day, three children, Diptika Kariki, Deunish Karki and Pranish Karki, died after another forest fire got out of hand in Hatuwagdi Rural Municipality-7 in Bhojpur.

A day later, on March 17, a wildfire in Simley in Phedap Rural Municipality in Tehrathum caused damages to 15 houses in five villages.

Wildfires in Nepal are a common occurrence during the pre-monsoon months of March and April. Locals traditionally light fires around forests to promote the germination of desirable tree species and reveal mineral layers in the soil, enhancing seedling vitality and renewing the forest ecosystem. This practice has long-term benefits, as the subsequent monsoon rains foster fodder growth for livestock.

However, due to climate change, these controlled forest fires are increasingly becoming uncontrollable, evolving into wildfires that pose threats to both humans and property. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA), 139 wildfire incidents were recorded in the country from March 14 to 17 alone. Many of these incidents resulted from controlled fires spiralling out of control.

Undivided attention

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NDRRMA says that they are holding meetings with chief district officers about the preparation for potential disasters. 

“We are conducting meetings with the government of all three levels to overcome the risk of wildfire,” says Goma Devi Chemjong, spokesperson of NDRRMA. 

She also informed that NDRRMA is also conducting awareness programmes and coordinating with the Ministry of Forest and Environment

Chemjong told Onlinekhabar that the incidence of wildfires has increased compared to last year. She attributed this rise to the lack of farming activities in many areas, which has led to wildfires encroaching upon settlements.

“As people have stopped farming, the empty land has turned into forest, and as a result, wildfire is increasing,” she says. 

She mentioned that a disaster management committee has been established under the provincial and local governments, but its capacity has not yet been fully developed.

So far, wildfires have been reported in 22 districts across the country, with Eastern Nepal experiencing relatively higher impacts.

“This might be because of the dry land in the area and lack of awareness among locals,” says Chemjong.

She adds the throwing of cigarette butts in the forest has also increased wildfire.

Fire line to the rescue?

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Sundar Prasad Sharma, undersecretary of NDRRMA, suggests that implementing fire lines can help overcome the issue of wildfires encroaching into settlements.

Fire control expert Kishor Kumar Bhattarai adds that the structure of houses also contributes to the difficulty in controlling fires that spread from forests into settlements.

“The houses in hilly areas are different from those in cities. Many of the materials used in house construction are flammable,” says Bhattarai. “On the other hand, there is space from one house to another, so that the fire gets enough oxygenated air. Hence, when the flames increase, the settlements will catch fire.”

Bhattarai suggests implementing fire lines around settlements and avoiding the use of flammable construction materials to mitigate the spread of wildfires into inhabited areas.

“There should also be a fire line in every village,” he says. 

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Another cause of wildfire during winter, according to Bhattarai, is the burning of useless stubbles while sowing corn in the fields.

Bharati Pathak, former president of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal, says that the government should take responsibility for controlling wildfires.

“Government has failed to create awareness about the wildfire and build mechanisms to tackle it,” says Pathak. 

“Throughout the year there should be discussion about disaster. Here we talk about it only after the incident takes place,” says Pathak. “Regarding wildfire, there should be proper awareness, and the training should be provided to locals.” 

The locals must be well trained, but the government has not thought about it, she adds. 

The post Government neglect fuels annual wildfires, costing lives and homes  appeared first on OnlineKhabar English News.

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