- Wildfires getting worse globally, governments unprepared: UNEP
- Frequent, high-intensity fires can damage soil, flora and fauna of forests
- Extreme wildfires expected to increase 30% by 2050: UNEP
New Delhi: Wildfires have intensified around the globe and it will only get worse, said the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in a new report released on Wednesday (February 23). The report highlighted that the incidences of fires have increased greatly over the few years in many countries including India.
The report, Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires, by UNEP and GRID-Arendal, a non-profit organisation based in Norway, finds that climate change and land-use change are making wildfires worse and anticipates a global increase of extreme fires even in areas previously unaffected.
Also Read: Here Is All You Need To Know About Wildfires
According to Andrew Sullivan, Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia, who is one of the report’s authors, uncontrollable and devastating wildfires are becoming an expected part of the seasonal calendars in many parts of the world. He said,
We have seen a great increase in recent fires in northern Syria, northern Siberia, the eastern side of Australia, and India. Although the situation is dire and eliminating wildfire risks is impossible, communities can still reduce their risk and exposure. Where wildfires have historically occurred, they may increase; however, where wildfires have not historically occurred, they may become more common.
He added that extreme wildfires can be devastating to people, biodiversity and ecosystems. They also exacerbate climate change, contributing significant greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, he said.
Peter Moore, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and a contributing author of the report added that uncontrollable and unusual wildfires have long term impacts on the people- socially, economically and psychologically.
Here are some of the major highlights of the report:
- Wildfire risk is growing: With climate change triggering droughts and farmers clearing forests, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30 per cent within the next 28 years (by 2050) and by 50 per cent by the end of the century (by 2100).
- Fires are affecting unusual places: Wildfires are now scorching environments that were not prone to burning in the past, such as the Arctic’s tundra, the Amazon rainforest, India’s northern region among others.
- Wildfires disproportionately affect the world’s poorest nations: With an impact that extends for days, weeks and even years after the flames subside, they impede progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals and deepen social inequalities. Fires should be treated in the same category as other humanitarian disasters such as earthquakes and floods
- Wildfires and climate change are mutually exacerbating: Wildfires are made worse by climate change through increased drought, high air temperatures, low relative humidity, lightning, and strong winds resulting in hotter, drier, and longer fire seasons. At the same time, climate change is made worse by wildfires, mostly by ravaging sensitive and carbon-rich ecosystems like peatlands and rainforests. This turns landscapes into tinderboxes, making it harder to halt rising temperatures.
- Wildfires are adding to the risks of air pollution: The UN researchers also called for more awareness of the dangers from smoke inhalation, which can affect tens of millions of people annually as plumes from major wildfires drift thousands of miles across international borders. “People’s health is directly affected by inhaling wildfire smoke, causing respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and increased health effects for the most vulnerable,” said the report.
How To Curb The Worsening Fire Risk?
According to the report, there is a need for a radical change in government spending on wildfires, shifting their investments from reaction and response to prevention and preparedness. Currently, direct responses to wildfires typically receive over half of the related expenditures, while planning receives less than one per cent. The UNEP calls for adopting a ‘Fire Ready Formula’ according to which, two-thirds of spending to planning, prevention, preparedness and recovery, with only a smaller percentage put toward a response to damages and losses. Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director said,
Current government responses to wildfires are often putting money in the wrong place. Those emergency service workers and firefighters on the frontlines who are risking their lives to fight forest wildfires need to be supported. We have to minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared: invest more in fire risk reduction, work with local communities, and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change.
To prevent fires, the report calls for a combination of data and science-based monitoring systems with indigenous knowledge and for stronger regional and international cooperation.
We must work with nature, communities, harness local knowledge, and invest money and political capital in reducing the likelihood of wildfires starting in the first place and the risk of damage and loss that comes when they do, the report said.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.