Humanity's failure to mitigate climate change and biodiversity losses raises questions of restorative and distributive justice
Humanity's failure to mitigate climate change and biodiversity losses raises questions of restorative and distributive justice

Guwahati: Assam’s Dima Hasao district is the most forest fire-prone district in the country, followed by Lunglei, Lawangtalai and Mamit districts in Mizoram.

This was revealed in an independent study on forest fires by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), one of Asia’s leading not-for-profit policy research institutions. The study was released on April 7.

The study analysed multi-decadal (2000–09|2010–19) Spatio-temporal data to identify the states vulnerable to high-intensity forest fires and their correlation with the varying microclimate.

The study found that Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Telangana, and the north-eastern region (NER) states – except for Sikkim – are prone to high intensity forest-fire events.

“Our analysis suggests that Mizoram has had the highest number of forest fire incidences in the last two decades, with more than 95 per cent of its districts being forest fire hotspots, which is validated by the findings in the Forest Survey of India (2019)” the study ‘Managing Forest Fires in a Changing Climate’ says.

It says further, that within the NE, slash-and-burn agricultural practices like jhum agriculture are predominant and often play an active role in driving these fires. “It is interesting to note that despite the NE being a rain-fed area, it is witnessing more forest fire incidences during increased dry spells across March-May and due to the muddled rainfall distribution pattern,” the study says.

The study recommended that forest fires should be acknowledged as a chronic hazard at the core of India’s disaster management strategy.

“Forest fires should be recognised as a disaster type under the National Disaster Management A act. The recognition will enhance and strengthen the National Plan on Forest Fires by improving its financial allocation and through the creation of a cadre of trained forest firefighters under the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force,” it says.

More than 30 per cent of Indian districts are vulnerable to extreme forest fires.

The study also highlighted that instances of forest fires in India have risen over 10 times in the past two decades. In the last month alone, significant forest fires have been reported in states like Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The study also found that Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra are the most prone to high-intensity forest fire events caused by rapid changes in the climate. As global temperatures rise, instances of high-intensity forest fires have surged across the globe, especially in areas with dry weather.

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW, said, “Over the last decade, there has been a sharp rise in forest fires across the country. Some of these fires have had severe impacts on fragile ecosystems and local economies.

“State and district-level government officials must also prioritise enhancing the capacity of frontline forest officials and forest-dependent communities to prevent forest fires,” Ghosh says.

“Sharp increase in forest fires over the last two decades calls for a significant course correction in our approach to managing forest fires. The recent incident at Sariska forest reserve, the fourth such incident in a week, shows why managing forest fires in a changing climate scenario is a national imperative. Going forward, we should recognise forest fires as a natural hazard and earmark more funds for mitigation-related activities. Restoration of forest lands and efficient mitigation of forest fires could also help protect the food systems and livelihoods of communities traditionally dependent on forests.” said Abinash Mohanty, Programme Lead, CEEW.

The study also found that over the last two decades, more than 89 per cent of total forest fire incidences have been recorded in districts that are traditionally drought-prone or have been witnessing weather swapping trends i.e flood-prone areas turning drought-prone and vice-versa.

The study also found that local air quality could deteriorate significantly during a forest fire. The state governments or state forest departments should repurpose public buildings like government schools and community halls by fitting them with clean air solutions – like air filters – to create clean air shelters for communities worst impacted by fires and smoke from forest fires.

Also read: Assam: NHAI approves Rs 1674 crore for ‘East-West Corridor’

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