Aggressive strategy needed to control forest fires: Vardhan

NEW DELHI: Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan Tuesday said only an “aggressive strategy” can help in controlling forest fires which cause an annual loss of Rs 1,101 crore.

Speaking at the launch of a joint report by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the World Bank on ‘Strengthening Forest Fire Management in India’, he noted that about 70 per cent of the forest area in India experiences forest fires.

“Forest fires can be controlled by using aggressive strategy that includes incentivising communities and forest departments for preventing forest fires,” Vardhan said.

He also underlined the need to bring a social movement to prevent forest fires which currently cause an economic loss of Rs 1,101 crore.

“No problem can be solved without making it a social movement. There is a need to carry the findings of the report to communities that are getting impacted by it and apprising them of ways they can adopt to prevent such fires,” the minister said.

Vardhan said a collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology can also help in this regard.

The joint report by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the World Bank has analysed patterns and trends of forest fires in India.

While the findings indicate that forest fires occur every year in almost every state in India, some districts were found to be more vulnerable than others.

The report said just 20 districts (mostly located in the Northeast) accounted for over 40 per cent of all forest fires detected between 2003 and 2016.

Similarly, the top-20 districts (mainly in Central India) accounted for about 48 per cent of the total fire-affected area, while having just 12 per cent of the country’s forest cover in the year 2000 and 7 per cent of its land area.

“Forest fires are a challenge across many countries. They lead to loss of lives and livelihood for people directly dependent on forest produce. This report discusses policies on forest fire prevention and management, and underscores the need for better fire prevention practices and a well-equipped and trained workforce to fight fires,” Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India, said.

The report also said that forest fires were a leading cause of forest degradation in India.

The report discusses policies on forest fire prevention and management (FFPM) at the national, state and local levels, underscoring the need for a comprehensive national policy and guidelines.

It also provides recommendations on five broad themes of policy, institutions and capacity, community engagement, technology, and data and information; and looks at best national and international practices in FFPM.