More than 30 per cent of Indian districts are vulnerable to extreme forest fires even as instances in India have risen by over 10 times in the past two decades, a new study released on Thursday said.
In the last month alone, significant forest fires have been reported from Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, notably from Sariska Tiger Reserve.
An independent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) has also found that Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra are the most prone to high-intensity forest fire events caused by rapid change in the climate. As global temperatures rise, instances of high-intensity forest fires have surged across the globe, especially in areas with dry weather.
The CEEW study 'Managing Forest Fires in a Changing Climate' 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 trend i.e., flood-prone areas turning drought-prone and vice-versa.
Kandhamal (Odisha), Sheopur (Madhya Pradesh), Udham Singh Nagar (Uttarakhand), and East Godavari (Andhra Pradesh) are some of the forest fire hotspot districts that are also showing a swapping trend from flood to drought. This 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.
"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, fourth such incident in a week, shows why managing forest fires in a changing climate scenario is a national imperative. We should recogniSe forest fires as a natural hazard and earmark more funds for mitigation-related activities, said Programme Lead at CEEW, Abinash Mohanty.
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, he said.
The CEEW 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.
The study also recommended that forest fires should be recognised as a disaster under the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA). This could help strengthen the National Plan on Forest.
CEEW CEO, Dr Arunabha Ghosh said: "Some of these fires have had severe impacts on fragile ecosystems and local economies. We need to strengthen our predictive and forest fire alert systems further to limit the damage caused by forest fires."
"State and district-level government officials must also prioritise enhancing the capacity of frontline forest officials and forest-dependent communities to prevent forest fires. Scaling up training on creating effective forest fire lines and using drones, especially in known forest fire hotspots, could significantly reduce loss and damage," he said.