At a time when India has managed to increase its forest cover to over 20 per cent of its geographical area, forest health continues to show signs of strain. Regeneration is either inadequate or absent in about 45 per cent of all forest areas and about 95 per cent of all forest plots inventoried show some signs of degradation.
The report, "Strengthening Forest Fire Management in India", jointly prepared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank says forest fires are today 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 provides recommendations on five broad themes – policy, institutions and capacity, community engagement, technology, and data and information and looks at national and international best practices in FFPM.
According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the annual carbon emissions from forest fires globally range between 2.5 billion to 4.0 billion tons of CO2, adding large volumes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
The report was released by Dr Harsh Vardhan, Hon. Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change at an event today. Speaking at the event Dr Vardhan said: "Forest fire management is part of our long-term vision for sustainable forest management. It is also crucial for sustaining progress towards our global pledge of creating additional sinks of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tons worth of CO2 stored in its forests by 2030."
"The new study will provide critical inputs for the preparation of Government of India's National Action Plan on Forest Fire Prevention and Management," he added.
The report analyses patterns and trends of forest fires in India. While the findings of this study indicate that forest fires occur every year in almost every state in India, some districts have been found to be more vulnerable than others. In fact, just 20 districts (mostly located in the Northeast) account for over 40 per cent of all forest fires detected between 2003 and 2016. Similarly, the top-20 districts (mainly in Central India) account 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 the loss of lives and livelihoods 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," said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India. "We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with the MoEFCC on this important agenda, and to contribute towards informing its National Action Plan on Forest Fire Prevention and Management in India."
(With inputs from World Bank)