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Forest fires in Pakistan: A new challenge?

Fires can erupt anywhere, especially in far-flung, mountainous and hilly areas where there are no firefighting facilities. Has been seen when the regular firefighting teams reach these areas and start their operations the fires have reached an uncontrollable stage and have wretched the forests and forestland.

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Pakistan has very recently witnessed some deadly forest fires in different parts of the country. Resultantly, dozens of people’s lives have reportedly been lost and massive economic losses have occurred. Last month, the fires had been raging at the Koh-e-Sulaiman Range where more than 100,000 native chilgoza trees were burnt; annual earnings from these trees were about RS 3 billion. Fires have also erupted in Islamabad’s Margalla Hills and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Tirah Valley where thousands of trees have been burned down and some human lives have been claimed by these fires.

Such fires are regularly observed in different parts of Pakistan. High-intensity fires only are generally reported whereas various others go unreported. Fires bring devastating impacts in the form of economic losses, destruction of trees, and smoke in the air causing environmental complications. These fires cause an escalation in temperature that ultimately threatens human lives severely. It is therefore important to uncover the underpinning reasons for the occurrence of these fires prior to an appropriate response to this menace?

Read more: Balochistan forest fire kills 3, burns thousands of trees

What causes the forest fires?

Climate change has been identified as one of the most significant causes of forest fires. So, with climate change affecting society and all living beings equally and drastically, the chances of something going horribly wrong, especially bushfires, are always high. According to Federal Minister for Climate Change, Senator Sherry Rehman, a lengthy heat wave across the country has aggravated forest fires and the number and frequency of forest fires this year is worrying, and directly linked to climate stress. There are some other natural factors responsible for the breakout of fires in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Another natural cause of such fires is lightning. Thunderbolts can provide the spark that can eventually trigger fires. However, there are also multiple human factors that are causing such fires.

It has been reported that in some cases farmers looking to clean their land for upcoming crops cultivation have sparked fires and turn into uncontrollable disasters. Drier conditions help to ignite these small fires into big ones. Campers, careless smokers and burning debris are also significant reasons for the bushfires and forest fires.

Natural factors such as climate change and others are blamed for these fires but human-induced factors are equally responsible. Statistics show that nearly 50 percent of forest fires have erupted as a result of human actions. In the Pakistani case, it has been observed the relevant departments are unable to timely extinguish these fires; resultantly fires have inflicted heavy damage on human lives and property. It is therefore needed to employ balance strategies considering both natural and human factors responsible for these fires and come up with pragmatic approaches.

Read more: PM Imran Khan pays homage to firefighter who died in Chitral’s forest fire

There must be proper investigations of these fires so as to identify the actual causes of the fires and set out future plans accordingly. The recent forest fires have clearly exposed the fact that Pakistani institutions are not well poised to deal with such disasters.  They lack the necessary modern firefighting equipment, technology and trained human resource to either forecast or extinguish such fires.

The forest fires were handled manually, which was a drawback and there should be some advanced facilities as well. The authorities were struggling to timely contain the fires. Unfortunately, the forest department had failed to devise a strategy to overcome the threat of forest fires which end up destroying thousands of trees every year. Hundreds of hectares of precious forests are lost every year due to forest fires.  Pakistan needs a proper plan and coordinated efforts to eliminate or limit these fires.

National Disaster Management Authority and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities along with some other related departments are responsible to respond such events. The responses from these concerned authorities have been expectedly sluggish. With the advent of numerous forest fires, weak responses from relevant authorities and consider it as a local issue, the government has recommended immediate elevation of all forest fire management to the district level. The forest fire issue must be addressed at the local scale and there is a need to equip local institutions with modern apparatus so that they can positively act in due course of time by having up-to-date information and knowledge.

The government has also suggested installing watch towers during the fire seasons in order to immediately identify any fire site so that a quick response may be initiated. Moreover, it has also proposed to create fire ditches, establish fire control rooms in all forest fire zones in all provinces and involve local communities. In most cases, the local communities are left to their own devices which are inadequate and, in some cases, may be counterproductive. However, there is a need to train local communities to produce an effective response to forest fires.

Read more: Watch: Tiktoker arrested for setting forest on fire

How we can stop this?

Fires can erupt anywhere, especially in far-flung, mountainous and hilly areas where there are no firefighting facilities. Has been seen when the regular firefighting teams reach these areas and start their operations the fires have reached an uncontrollable stage and have wretched the forests and forestland. Local communities may be trained on a vulnerary basis so that they can act at the initial stage of the fire eruption and it is possible to contain the fires at the initial stage before their spread. Local community engagement is crucial to confronting the challenges of forest fires.

Local communities must be educated about the causes especially human factors of these fires so that they become aware that their small mistake can bring destruction to the whole area. There is also a need to establish a reporting mechanism at the grass root level where everyone can immediately report to local authorities in case of any event. At tourist spots there should be a system of communication so that tourists and visitors can be well instructed in the context of forest fires.

It is imperative to make sure that tourists turn off all the fire flames properly, when they blow fire for cooking purposes in the hilly and tourist areas, as these small particles of flame can turn the whole mountain into ashes. The provincial government may devise a system of placement of trained firefighters in the most vulnerable tourist destinations where fires can come out.

Read more: Australia Burning: Bushfires kill countless people, animals, and forests

Forest fires are a grave concern and need serious attention by the government to protect valuable forests and precious wildlife. These forest fires are devastating for our forests – burning trees and killing many species of birds and small animals every year. It is highly demanding to produce proactive and long-term responses to counter the immediate threat of forest fires. Government should provide modern firefighting equipment at the local level in all the districts that host such large forests.

 

The writer is working as Assistant Professor, at the Department of Public Administration, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He can be reached at mumtaz86@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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