While the forests are burning

Nepal continues to face a series of forest fire incidents


Nagarkot’s Datadol forest is the latest to experience a wildfire, as a series of fire incidents continue to be reported from across the country.

A fire sparked off by ‘unknown causes’, according to the local residents, engulfed major parts of the forest on Saturday, starting at around 5PM. It took three fire trucks, assisted by local men, several hours into the night to douse the fire.

There had been smaller fires incidents in the community forest in the past, but locals say they had never seen anything of the scale recorded on Saturday night.

"We've no idea how the fire started," Bane Tamanag, a Nagarkot resident told Nepali Times.

Local residents said they were not aware what had started the fire. Similar feedback has been reported in other forest fire incidents in other parts of the country, with witnesses saying the source of the fire was unknown.

On Sunday, a forest fire also broke out in Shivapuri Nagarjuna National Park. Nepal Police, Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and choppers from private airlines were deployed to douse the fire, which continued in some parts of the conservation area during the night, leaving the area shrouded in dense air.

An extended winter drought left the forests tinder-dry, sparking fires across the Himalayas late last year. Forest fires had started spreading in the Manang Valley around Chame in late November, and in Pathibhara in eastern Nepal, in December. Since then, hundreds of wildfires have spread across the Tarai and mid-mountains of Nepal.

The country continues to endure the record worst air quality in recent years because of the wildfires that have ravaged the forests at unprecedented rates. The country has been shrouded in smoke from forest fires for close to three weeks, made worse by the vehicular emissions and industrial pollution.

Similar fire situations have been reported in neighbouring India. Last week, four people were killed in India’s Uttarakhand, when a fire engulfed 62 hectares of forest area. The Uttarakhand government deployed 12,000 forest guards and firefighters to put out the fire and also called an emergency meeting.  The state has reported 983 incidents of wildfires that have destroyed 105.85 hectares already.

In Nepal, no such measures have been taken and there is no account available of the loss of wildlife or areas of forest, to the fires. Concerns over the situation have been expressed by a number of people who are working in the environment and climate change sector, while the government has come under criticism for its lack of response to the situation from various quarters.

“An environment crisis is never just about the environment: climate change has political-economic antecedents in energy policy, hazardous air pollution is caused by regulatory failure, political neglect leads to health crisis,” wrote environmentalist Bhushan Tuladhar, on Twitter.

Read also: Thick haze adds to Nepal Covid-19 woes, Sonia Awale