Indian Forest Fires – A Raging Omission

by Rahul J

Forest fires have been raging in many parts of India for some time now, and this issue has been going unnoticed. There have been 82,170 forest fire alerts over the span of two weeks ( April 1- 14th ) of this year, many of them falling to deaf ears[1]. So, in this week’s blog, let’s take a look at why these incidents occur, their impact and what can be done to prevent them.

  1. What causes forest fires?

These can occur due to a variety of natural reasons. The ones that we saw in India, especially in the states of Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh etc. have been said to be caused by human activities. This can either be adopting the use of burning croplands, or by accident. But research today points out that there is a very distinct link between climate change and forest fires, notably the fire in the Amazon Forest in Brazil and the Australian fires.

Hopefully, the Indian situation is not that serious, but nonetheless, each year the trend is getting worse. Not only were this year’s fires the highest in the last half decade, but the temperatures recorded in the month of March 2021 was the third warmest in 121 years ( according to IMD report ).[2]

Given this correlation between climate change and forest fires, the most common way they occur is when dry wood, logs and dry grass cause friction rubbing each other on the ground and initiate fires.

The lack of soil moisture has been identified to be the reason behind Uttarakhand’s fire this year ( one of the most affected states ).

It is also important to note that India’s Disaster Management Authority has not classified forest fires as a natural hazard, even though 36% of India’s forest has been prone to fires.

Even though government funding for the forest service has increased in recent years, fire services are understaffed and are not able to contain fires in the big forests that India has.

Help from local communities has often become the solution but this has also been weakened given the trust deficit between the locals and forest admins[3].

This has led to small-scale protests by the locals against alleged conservation policy violations and depriving them of forest rights[3].

(Forest fire alerts from April 1-14, 2021 in India as recorded by the Global Forest Watch, an open-source monitoring application)[1]

2. What are the major impacts?

  • Forest fires ensure that fighting climate change is much harder, as it increases the carbon levels present in the region and these forests stop playing the important role that they normally play as carbon sinks.
  • Fires often affect the wildlife present in these regions adversely and result in habitat loss or displacement, given that they reduce soil quality and moisture. E.g. Bandhavgarh forest reserve in Madhya Pradesh known for its Tiger Population was severely affected.
  • Forest cover, soil and tree growth, main components of a healthy forest will also be damaged.

3. Prevention/Treatment

  • Given that temperature control, rainfall pattern and soil moisture is beyond control, we should work on acting on forest fire alarm calls spontaneously, with maximum fighters on the ground. This should be done especially in the months of March, April and May given that fires are prone to crop up during this time of the year.
  • Better communication and dialogue between locals and forest departments would mean that there are more nuanced methods of fighting fire that the locals may be aware of, more fighters on the ground and awareness to the locals not to accidentally initiate fires.

This trend year represents one of the tipping points in the climate crisis and we must take this seriously. 

References:

1. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/forests/forest-fires-in-india-alerts-since-april-1-nearly-double-that-of-2020-76559

2. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/why-forest-fires-break-out-in-the-spring-and-why-they-have-been-so-frequent-this-year-72590573. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56671148

Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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