2020 forest fires worse than previous years; WWF

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From the Amazon to the Arctic, forest fires have been raging in an alarming rate than before. A report from the WWF and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that 2020 Forest Fires Globally Could be Worse than 2019.

The Report — Fires, Forests and Future: A Crisis Ranging Out of Control – says that the fires burning today in many parts of the world are bigger, more intense, and last longer than they used to.

The new report points out the number of fire alerts across the globe, as of April, were up by 13 per cent when compared to last year. It notes that persistent hotter and drier weather due to deforestation, climate change and land conversion for agriculture are the main drivers for the recent fires, the report says.

fires burning today in many parts of the world are bigger, more intense, and last longer than they used to.

HUMAN FACTOR

Noting that an increasing share of wildfires were due to human activity, the report says that it accounted for 75 per cent of all wildfires in recent years. In the Northern Hemisphere, the report says that most of the fires are caused by negligence such as burning rubbish and industrial accidents. Arson is also blamed for the fires in the region. Ninety five per cent of the fires in Europe are caused by negligence. The report points out that 84 per cent of fires in the United States are because of negligence.

Human factor accounted for 75 per cent of all wildfires in recent years.

The WWF said that forest fires are intentionally set for land-use change, clearing and preparing new areas for cultivation in tropical and subtropical regions. “Slash and burn” is a farming method used in many countries, especially in Southeast Asia and Africa, where trees are cut and burnt to expand arable land while enriching its soil with ashes and nutrients.

Controlled fires, which are used for commercial agriculture, could also lead to large fires.”In the Brazilian Amazon, fires are also part of a pattern of increasing encroachment into public and Indigenous Peoples’ lands,” the report said.

Lightning could ignite fire in remote forests

 COVID-19:

The reports points out that the present COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted the forests in a large scale. With resources diverted to the fight against coronavirus, the government has stopped forest patrols and enforcement. As such several countries are reported to have an increased deforestation and outbreaks of fires. It said that COVID-19 appeared to have helped Brazil’s regime to open the Amazon for business. The report quotes environment minister Ricardo Salles as telling colleagues to “take advantage of the fact that the attention of the press is on the pandemic to approve infra-legal reforms of deregulation of the environment.”

CHANGING CLIMATE

The report said that unless more is done to fight the effects of climate change, the global curve could bend back upwards. “In North America, fewer but more severe wildfire occurrences have led to recent increases in annual area burned, which some estimates put at 5.3 per cent and 4.1 per cent per year in Canada and the US respectively. Likewise, the enormous wildfires which recently devastated large areas in Australia, Brazil and Russia point upwards as well. Scientists predict climate change will increase the annual area burned worldwide up to levels not seen since the 1950s, but this can be avoided if we adopt more sustainable land use and management practices,” the report said.

In the report, the researchers also mentioned that increasing global temperature and free rain days have led to frequent fires. “Fire seasons are getting longer, and extreme fire seasons more common. From 1979 to 2013, the global fire season length increased by 19 per cent on average. This increase is particularly severe in east Africa and Brazil, with the forests and savannahs of South America experiencing an average of over one month increase in the fire season. Climate change is also making fire seasons increasingly unpredictable. Instances of so called ‘outliers’ – abnormally long fire seasons – have increased,” the WWF report said.

Fire seasons are getting longer, and extreme fire seasons more common.

It said that climate change has led to dry soils and exposing vegetation to longer extreme weather events. The WWF said that this reduced small scale regenerative fires and only accelerated the spread of pests and disease. These led killing of trees that led to an increased accumulation of flammable material.

CONSEQUENCES

The WWF in the report said that an estimated 3,400,00 premature deaths are reported from respiratory and cardiovascular issues attributed to wildfire smoke. It also noted that 80 per cent of the deaths occur in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They WWF also mentions that non fatal illnesses also caused major upheavals and pointed out that almost a million Indonesians suffered from respiratory problems caused by smoke from forest and peat land fires in 2019.

It also said that risk of floods and debris flows after fires increased due to vegetation loss and soil exposure. These have been recorded in United States, especially in Southern California.

Wildfires pose a growing threat to biodiversity globally. In Australia, the catastrophic wildfires in 2019-20 are estimated to have killed or displaced up to 3 billion animals, including already vulnerable species such as koalas.

RECOMMENDATIONS  

  • Raise climate change ambition worldwide
  • Improve Paris agreement accounting for emissions from ‘non-anthropogenic’ fires
  • Reinvest in prevention
  • Halt deforestation
  • Prevent opportunistic exploitation of burned areas (for agriculture) n Rehabilitate areas and manage those sustainably
  • Shift resources towards prevention, especially educational programs and fuel management activities
  • Halt deforestation based agriculture, especially in tropical areas
  • Partner with local communities to reduce fire ignition risk, and empower these to sustainably manage their forests
  • Authorities should map all risk factors, and act accordingly (anticipate and prepare ahead of extreme events, such as El Nino)

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