Combating forest fires

Most of the forest fires in Nepal are human-induced and occur during the dry season, with around 89 per cent of them occurring in March, April and May. In one of the worst fires in recent memory, 49 people were killed and thousands of hectares of forest land was damaged in the summer of 2009. In 2016, 15 people were reported dead in forest fires. By May 2016, forest fires had destroyed 1.3 million hectares of forests.

In 2017, about 39,000 hectares of forest cover in inside protected areas, and public and community forests were reported to have been damaged by forest fires. Three houses and six cowsheds were affected too. A study report published in early 2017 showed that in total 18 out of 75 districts were found to be in high risk of forest fires.

With the summer just about to start, we can rule out forest fires again this year. Since January there have been more than three incidents of forest fire in the country. Forest fires were reported in Gulmi, Solukhumbu and Rukum districts.

The government approved the Forest Fire Management Strategy in 2010. A number of fire preventive programmes are being implemented in the districts through the Department of Forests and Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. Forest Policy 2015 envisions maintaining at least 40 per cent forests in the country. Further, it is also committed to forming a multi-stakeholder participatory mechanism to combat illegal activities including forest fire. Similarly, there is a working policy in the Forest Policy 2015 to implement existing forest fire management strategy effectively through awareness programmes.

Forest Fire Management Strategy 2010 is aimed at “safeguarding lives and properties, protecting environment and providing livelihood supports to the local communities”. The strategy has four pillars for forest fire management in Nepal: a) Policy (legal and institutional development and improvement); b) Education (awareness raising, capacity building and technology development); c) Participatory (involving local community) fire management and research; and d) Coordination and collaboration (international cooperation, networking and infrastructure development). Based on the strategy, the government should prepare an action plan as soon as possible with close coordination with community-based forest management groups and their networks.