Forest fires flare up in Nepal, air quality deteriorates

Forest fires flare up in Nepal, air quality deteriorates

Due to a lack of rainfall and growing fire incidents, pollution level worsens during this season.

As forest fires continue to flare up in Nepal, the air quality of Kathmandu has deteriorated. Kathmandu's air quality remained unhealthy throughout Tuesday with pollution levels peaking in the morning and evening pushing up the ranking of most polluted cities.

As per the Tuesday evening air quality index by IQAir, Kathmandu stands fifth in terms of polluted cities with US AQI at 155.

Nepal records over 100 forest fires incident on a regular basis. On April 26, 22, alone the country witnessed 108 forest fire incidents, mostly in the western region.

Forest fire incidents usually take place in Nepal from mid-Nov to May. (Winter fire from mid-nov-Feb and spring fire from March-May)

In 2022, Nepal has recorded 960 forest fire incidents (in just four months, till April 26), almost 50 houses have been damaged, one killed and one severely injured, and this will further continue to increase.

Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority’s Under Secretary Sundar Sharma said the whole country is fire-prone.

“The fourth week of April is the peak time of forest fires in Nepal. The whole country is witnessing forest fire. The entire country is fire-prone. As of now, most western parts and low-land regions of the country are affected by it. This time the eastern part is not affected much might be due to weather conditions,” Sharma told media.

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However, he said if the temperature continues to rise the eastern part is likely to witness the same level of disaster.

He urged people to be cautious, especially people living in rural areas.

“People living in rural areas and low areas will have to be cautious of the wildfire because this is a vulnerable time. The temperature is high and winds are strong so there are chances of fire flaring up,” he added.

Sharma said agriculture burning is the biggest contributor to air pollution, ‘, especially on the India-Nepal border'.

Almost, 75 per cent of the fire incidents take place in March and April every year and 52 per cent of the fire incidents are recorded alone in April.

Due to a lack of rainfall and growing fire incidents, pollution level worsens during this season.

In 2021, Nepal witnessed an unprecedented wildfire disaster, recording 6,799 incidents affecting 75 districts of the country due to which the authorities concerned had issued a red alert and enforced school closure for four days.

Almost all fires are human-induced in Nepal. As per the Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction Authority, burning for stimulation of new grass (intentional) and smokers (negligence) alone share about 45 per cent of fires among all known causes of forest fires.

While 64 per cent of fires are set by people intentionally, 32 per cent of fires are due to accidents and about 4% are unknown.

Sharma said there is still no dedicated section/unit/cell to look after the forest fires in Nepal yet.

As per the Nepali authorities, the country lacks institutional mechanisms and policies. A few constraints that Nepal faces in tackling forest fire are that there is no dedicated institutional arrangement and no trained human resources.

There is a lack of firefighting tools and equipment, financial resources for long-term plans and programmes, and difficult terrain.

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