Forest fires in Pakistan: A new challenge | By Dr Muhammad Mumtaz


Forest fires in Pakistan: A new challenge

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 earning from these trees was 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 escalation in temperature that ultimately threatens human lives severely.

It is therefore important to uncover the underpinning reasons for occurrence of these fires prior to an appropriate response to this menace?

Climate change has identified one of the most significant causes of forest fires.So, with climate change affecting the 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, 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 reported that in some cases farmers looking to clean their land for upcoming crops cultivation have sparked fires and turned 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 are erupted as a result of human actions.

In Pakistan’s case, it has been observed the relevant departments are unable to timely extinguish these fires; resultantly fires have inflicted heavy damages on human lives and property.

It is therefore needed to employ a balanced strategy considering both natural and human factors responsible for these fires and come up with pragmatic approaches.

There must be proper investigation into 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 resources to either forecast or to 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 to such events.

The responses from these concerned authorities have been expectedly sluggish. On the advent of numerous forest fires, weak responses from relevant authorities and considering it as a local issue, the government has recommended immediate elevation of all forest fires management to district level.

The forest fires issue must be addressed at a 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 having an 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 effective response for forest fires.

Fires can erupt anywhere especially in far-flung, mountainous and hilly areas where there are no fire fighting facilities.

It has seen when the regular firefighting teams reach in 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 voluntary 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.

The local community engagement is crucial to confront 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 for the whole area.

There is also a need to establish a reporting mechanism at the gross 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.

Provincial government may devise a system of placement of trained firefighters in most vulnerable tourists’ destinations where fires can come out.

Forest fires are a grave concern and need serious attention by the government to protect valuable forest 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.