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More Than 1,50,000 Square Kilometres Of Forest Cover Area In India Is Fire-Prone

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Forest fires are as old as forests themselves and are mostly good for ecology and regeneration. They often help the forests eliminate natural wastes like dry grass, thick bushes and tree needles. A serious problem erupts when the fire becomes wild and destroys the entire or most of the region’s flora and fauna, in turn severely affecting the ecological balance.

It also includes soil erosion, loss of forest cover, depletion of the ozone layer, loss of habitat, and many tribal and rural people’s livelihood.

Every year on 21 March, we celebrate the International Day of Forests, the theme of 2021 being Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being. This day is celebrated for promoting the value of forests for living creatures. Forests play a vital role in providing food, water and shelter to animals and humans in uncountable ways. However, recently we are witnessing many issues that are damaging our forests, environment and biodiversity.

The Similipal National Park Fire Incident

Similipal Forest Fire
Smoke engulfed inside the Similipal Biosphere in Mayurbhanj district near Jashipur. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Odisha is a state situated in the Eastern part of India. The report of the Forest Survey of India, released in 2012, showed that Odisha had 48,903 km² of forests, covering 31.41% of the state’s total area. The forests are classified as dense forests covering 7,060 km² areas; medium dense forest covering 21,366 km², open forest covering 20,477 km² and scrub forest covering 4,764 km² forest area of the state.

Similipal National Park is situated in the northern part of the Mayurbhanj district. It is a protected wildlife area with a tiger reserve spreading over 2,750 km². It includes 1,078 species of plants, including 94 orchids. The Sal tree is the primary tree species in the national park.

The park has 55 species of mammals, including the barking deer, Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, wild boar, jungle cat, Indian bison, Indian elephant, Indian giant squirrel, sambar deer, four-horn antelope and common langur. There are 304 species of birds, 60 species of reptiles, notably the king cobra, banded krait and tricarinate hill turtle. It also has a mugger crocodile breeding program in nearby Ramtirtha.

For more than 2 weeks, Asia’s second-largest biosphere was burning, though the fire is under control now with the help of multiple governmental agencies’ efforts. The royal family of Mayurbhanj and the locals came forward to help. The reason behind how the fire broke out is still not completely clear.

According to the report presented by the governmental official staff and the environment minister of Odisha, not much damage is done and no loss of life has been recorded because of the fire.

Many wild endangered animals were injured; many medicinal trees were burnt due to the fire and the tribal communities staying near the National Park were also affected because they are completely dependent on the forest for their livelihood. Undoubtedly the government is engaging them in alternative jobs, but those are not sufficient to sustain.

Forest
A total of 76,72,337 trees were cut down between the financial year 2016–17 to 2018–19.

Each year millions of hectares of the world’s forest are lost by fire, resulting in environmental damages, economic losses and the loss of human life along with wild flora and fauna. Various anthropogenic factors are unanimously causing an uncontrolled fire. Long ago, these might have been solely dependent upon nature’s vagaries, but now we can say that human-induced climate change plays a major role.

A total of 76,72,337 trees were cut down between the financial year 2016–17 to 2018–19. Out of them, 17,31,957 trees in the financial year 2016–17 were cut down, citing absolute necessity, which raised to 30,36,642 in the financial year 2018–19.

Uncontrollable fires have devastated many parts of India over the past years, causing severe havoc to the forest ecosystem; this includes the emission of carbon locked in the biomass. And the fire in the National Reserve Park of Similipal is one of the apt examples of this.

According to The Forest Survey of India released in the year 2019, analyzing areas in India prone to fire, out of 7,12,249 km² of forest cover, 1,52,421 km² is either highly or extremely fire-prone. The forests of Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Odisha, Manipur and MP are most vulnerable.

Global heating is mostly contributing to forest fires and those fires are stoking further heating. Observations over the past two decades show that the increasing intensity and spread of forest fires in Asia were largely related to rises in temperature and declines in precipitation, combined with increasing intensity of land use (IPCC 2007). Worldwide the length of the fire season increased by nearly 19% between 1979 and 2013.

In India, the record-breaking increase in temperatures has driven an early start to the forest fire season, with most fires occurring in the summer season. Forest fires greatly increased in number between 2014 and 2018. Odisha is in the top 10 list of the states where the maximum number of trees were cut down. A total of 6,58,465 trees were cut down in Odisha in the financial year of 2017–18. In contrast, the new tree plantation rate is not as high.

Governments have implemented many Acts and regulations to diminish the rising danger of nature. The government has proposed numerous schemes and policies for the conservation of nature. Several NGOs are also working for the protection of our environment and biodiversity.

But it is such a massive issue that it cannot be resolved only by a few governmental policies and efforts of NGOs. It requires every individual’s attention and attempt.

Causes Of Forest Fires

Bandipur Forest Fire Karnataka
Bandipur forest fire, Karnataka.

There are several natural causes such as lightning, rubbing of dry sticks, frictions due to rolling stones, etc. On the other hand, human-made causes could be, shifting cultivation, covering up illicit felling of trees, tribal tradition, clearing a path through the forest, etc.

Several policies were implemented by state and central governments but are only effective on paper. Forest fires have increased over the years. Disaster management teams and forest officials need to work more effectively and diligently.

The need of the hour is to regularly keep tracking the state of the forests through images captured from satellites. Appoint more ground staff and establish relations between forest officials and the tribal people for increasing cooperation to avoid such incidents in the future.

Climate change is the prime reason for increasing forest fires and other environmental issues. With some preventive measures, we can avoid these problems.

What Can Be Done?

  • Say no to plastic: Plastic is dangerous for human health and affects biodiversity. Reducing plastic usage, especially that we dispose of, will go a long way in reducing plastic pollution. Considering the high use of plastic in our day-to-day life, it seems difficult to execute. But some small steps can considerably reduce the amount of plastic we use every day.
  • Renewable to the rescue: Replacing fossil fuel with sustainable and renewable energy is the most effective idea in the present era.
  • Whenever possible, take public transport: Usage of public transportation can reduce pollution to a great extent.
  • Switching to electric cars: There are a lot of benefits of switching to an electric vehicle in addition to the reduced emission.
  • Stop cutting down forests: The loss of trees and other vegetation can cause deforestation, climate change, soil erosion, flooding, less crop yield, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as well as damage to the lives and livelihood of local and indigenous people.

By following these small steps, we can prevent some major problems. Though plants give us unmeasured ecological, economic, health and social benefits, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate. Therefore, it becomes necessary for everyone to act responsibly and inculcate awareness about the importance of saving forests.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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