Climate Change and Forest Fires: A Growing Crisis in Nepal

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Nepal is facing severe challenges from climate change and the escalating frequency of forest fires. The devastating consequences of climate change are leading to an alarming surge in forest fires, ravaging the country’s natural environment and posing a significant threat to its people.

Climate change, caused by both natural internal processes and external forces such as modulations of solar cycles, volcanic eruptions, and anthropogenic changes in the atmosphere’s composition, is wreaking havoc in Nepal. Changes in rainfall patterns have resulted in more floods, droughts, intense rain, and severe heatwaves, ultimately leading to an increase in forest fires and wildfires.

Nepal’s diverse topography, ranging from the low-lying Terai region to the towering heights of Mount Everest, makes it particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Rapidly retreating glaciers, rising temperatures, erratic rainfall, and an increase in the frequency of disasters like floods and droughts are putting immense pressure on the country’s ecosystems and communities.

The impact of climate change is wide-ranging, affecting temperature, agriculture, food production, livestock, hydroelectricity, livelihoods, and the economy. Moreover, it has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of disasters such as floods, landslides, droughts, and forest fires.

The poorest segments of society are the most vulnerable, facing risks to their livelihoods due to extreme heat stress and heatwaves. Additionally, climate change has led to the spread of water-borne and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and Japanese encephalitis. Air pollution from forest fires has also led to an increase in eye infections in areas like Bharatpur.

Forest fires, in particular, have become a pressing concern. Rising temperatures, prolonged droughts, and changes in rainfall patterns, all attributed to climate change, have contributed to an increase in forest fires globally. In Nepal, approximately 2,500 incidents of wildfires occur annually, with the majority occurring between February and May. The period from mid-March to mid-May is particularly vulnerable, accounting for 60 per cent of reported forest fires.

A study predicts a significant increase in forest fire incidents in Nepal due to rising temperatures, with more than 200 incidents already reported during the dry season of 2024. These fires have not only led to forest degradation and loss but also contributed to air pollution, with major cities like Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Bharatpur experiencing a significant decline in air quality.

To address this crisis, Nepal has formulated a national action plan to reduce forest fires. This includes implementing strict forest fire mitigation plans, policies, and practices, strengthening local governments, providing training and necessary equipment to residents, and raising awareness about the consequences of forest fires.

Urgent action is needed to combat the devastating effects of climate change and forest fires in Nepal. The government, along with local communities, must work together to implement effective mitigation strategies and safeguard the country’s environment and people for future generations.