Bhutan lost more than 45,000 acres of forest to fire in last five years

It’s season where the dry and windy atmosphere creates condition even for a small spark of fire to flare up and engulf the forest and it’s mostly human carelessness that leads to the disaster

Jan 31, 2013 0

A man-made disaster

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fireBattling flames with branches

COVER STORY It was an ordinary winter afternoon and ranger Gyaltshen was in his office, seated in front of the computer documenting information, when a nervous voice, loaded with tension, crackled on his communication set.

In the dry season, the communication set usually transmitted news that foresters dreaded.  The voice relayed information about a forest fire at Debsiphakha in Thimphu.

Immediately, ranger Gyaltshen informed the four beat officers in his range to mobilise foresters to come and help contain the fire that was engulfing the ridge.

Having done that, without losing time, Gyaltshen then picked up a fire rack, knife, and the 18-litre water bag from his office store, and rushed to the site in his office hilux.

The fire was spreading rapidly on the slopes, consuming the dried grass rapidly.  This called for more help.  Gyaltshen called his chief forest officer and asked to seek help from the armed forces.

Joining forest fire fighters and volunteers, Gyaltshen then started battling the raging flames with branches he ripped from a nearby tree.

“With a strong wind fueling the fire, I thought it could take days for us to contain it,” he said.

Among the lot battling the flames was forester Phub Tshering from forest protection unit.  He’d rushed to the site with a knife and spade, as soon as he heard about the incident.

Apart from thrashing branches to put off the flames, he also drew a fire line with the spade and knife, while keeping a close eye on the movement of fire. “It helped protect a settlement and a community lhakhang,” he said.

Having received calls for help, the armed forces and desuung and other volunteers, including residents from nearby communities, flocked to the site.

Two hours later, the fire was under control.  But ten acres of forest was lost to fire.

All in all, the fire at Debsiphakha was a manageable one.  At times, the fire burns forests for days, spreading from mountain to mountain to inaccessible territories, making it difficult to control the fire.

When valleys are usually enveloped or cloudy overhead, foresters dreading the worst, check with foresters in other offices in neighbouring districts to check if a forest is burning.

Every year, about 40-45 forest fire incidents are reported, and about 9,000 to 10,000 acres of forest area are lost. “It’s the biggest threat to our forest,  which we boast to be over 72 percent,” a forester said.

Forest fire, forestry officials said, literally meant a fire that occurs in a government reserved forests.

Blue pine, chirpine, mixed conifer, broadleaf with conifer, plantations and degraded forests, which cover approximately 40 percent of the total forest area, are most susceptible to frequent forest fires.

Records maintained by the forest fire management division showed that, in the last five years, more than 45,000 acres of forest were lost to fire.

Fire incidences 2007-2012

November to April is the peak forest fire season.  Low temperatures and lack of rainfall, perennial grasses, and increased wind velocity, officials from meteorology department said, quickens drying process making areas susceptible to fire.

“The dry and windy atmosphere creates condition even for a small spark of fire to flare up and engulf the forest,” an official from the division said.

Meteorology officials explained areas, with less than 1,000mm rainfall annually, are at high risk of having forest fires.

Kurizampa, Trashigang, Tangmachu, Rongthong in the east and Thimphu, Paro, Haa and Wangduephodrang in the west, and some rain shadow areas of the central region fall in high risk zones.

“Because of little rainfall, high day-time temperatures and afternoon winds, the forest floor dries out very quickly, leading to a high risk of fire,” an official explained. “Chirpine growing areas are also high risk zone.

Forests are considered as the most important natural wealth, and the economy is dependent on its protection, conservation and management, according to foresters.

“But forest fire are mainly caused by human intervention,” a forester said.

Some of the common causes of forest fire are agriculture debris burning, purposely setting off fires for regeneration of grass for cattle by farmers and by lemon grass harvesters, smokers, children playing with flammable materials, roadside worker burning bitumen or making fire to warm themselves or cook, campfires and electrical short circuit.

Claiming 100 percent of the forest fires to have been manmade, an official from the forest fire management division said, in the last five years, there were about 32 cases caused from agriculture debris burning.

“There were 10 to 11 cases reported to have been occurred while children were playing,” he said.

Citing an example of the fire that occurred in November 2012 at Samarzingkha, Thimphu the official said children, who were playing near the Thimchu set the fire and ran away from the area. “Parents shouldn’t give igniting objects to their children,” he said.

Once fire sparks, it spreads fast.  Fighting forest fire, foresters say, is difficult in a mountainous terrain, where road connectivity is very limited.

In places, where there is road connectivity, containing fire is much easier, since the fire brigade being able to access the site.

Most fires occur in places with no water source nearby or manpower.  Afternoon incidences are the most difficult to bring under control, with winds fanning the flames.

While these natural elements restrict firefighting, lack of equipment also hinders the process.  Unlike in developed countries, firefighter are without masks, gloves or water bags.

“Forget fire fighting tools, we don’t have enough to buy proper set for communication,” a forester said. “Most of the sets we use are old.”

Foresters said, without any annual budget allotted to procure fire fighting tools and equipment, even changing the batteries for their set was difficult.

Officials from forest fire management division said there are plans to replace the tree branches with proper firefighting tools, but because of the terrain, it is unrealistic.

“We can’t carry heavy equipment and walk for hours to battle fire,” an official said. “We have water back pumps, which are effective during incident to reduce the flame severity, and this equipment is supplied to all fire prone districts.”

Fighting forest fire is also considered a task for which one is unprepared.  Foresters rush to the area without much tools and end up at the site until the fire is contained, foraging meals and being trapped in smoke.

There have also been reports on casualties during such incidents.  At times, fighters lose their way in the forest.  Sometimes, situations turn out to be uncontrollable and so grim that foresters often find themselves praying for divine intervention.

Farmers in the localities often invoke deities to bring rain to contain forest fire.

Even Ranger Gyaltshen, who initially thought it would take days to contain the Debsiphakha fire, cannot help but believe divine intervention was what it took to contain the fire in two hours.

“The raging fire miraculously slowed down near a lam’s resident, and this helped us contain the fire,” he said.

By Tashi Dema

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Ujyaalo gets brighter

Ujyaalo radio 90 network (, a nationwide news service provider to 150 local stations across the country, is among the few enterprises to have made the switch to solar power as an answer to the catastrophic power shortage. Aptly named Ujyaalo Ghar (Bright home), the four-story building is powered by 10 KW solar panels which caters to the energy needs of its 60 employees, enabling round the clock media production for both radio and internet. Read more

मौसम में बदलाव गेहूं के लिए वरदान


पूसा  अतुल कुमार सिंह
जलवायु परिवर्तन ने अपना असर सालों भर उगाए जानेवाली फसलों पर डाला है। इससे न केबल धान व मक्का की फसलें प्रभावित हुई बल्कि दलहन और रबी फसलों पर भी बुरा असर पड़ा है। उत्तर बिहार में दिसंबर और जनवरी महीने में जरूरत से अधिक ठंड पड़ने के कारण दलहन की फसलों पर प्रतिकूल प्रभाव पड़ रहा है। लेकिन दिलचस्प है कि इसका असर गेहूं जैसी रबी फसल पर सकारात्मक रहा है।

Coastal village women gifted solar lanterns

Coastal village women gifted solar lanterns

This story depicts the life of communities residing close to the sea, facing cyclones, floods and increasing salinity due to the sea level rise. Sea intrusion has put the people most vulnerable, facing displacement. They being live ion far off areas do not have access to electricity. Each family spends Rs100 for a litre of kerosene oil to light a traditional lamp. In fact the price of kerosene is lower in the urban market, these people spend more cost, equal to petrol.

Recently a group of philanthropists, comprising businessmen from Karachi and some from US came to visit a coastal village Haji Umar Jat, Thatta district to donate 300 solar lanterns among the well skilled embroidery maker women.

It was the first time for these tribes’ women, who attended a programme, different than their traditional gatherings. Otherwise, they usually gather at shrines located at distantly islands, where they travel by boats. The tribal bindings force them to stay at home or work in fields or boats with their family members.

The event was organized by a non-governmental Sindh Coastal Development Organisation in collaboration with UNDP Global Environment Facility (Gef) Small Grants Program, LEDtronics and Shan Technologies Karachi, which attracted more than a dozen philanthropists, who were eager to donate these gifts to the families living in the most neglected areas.

Masood Lohar, Country Director of UNDP Gef SGP said “this unique initiative is like a war against darkness, which we have started a few months back with this group of philanthropists.”

A group of these philanthropists have, so far, donated 3000 solar lanterns to the communities in the different areas with setting up five basketball courts to promote recreational activism among the youth.

Maryam Issa, leading the group of philanthropists, expressed the hope that these solar lanterns will support the skilled women to continue their work at nighttime. We have brought little gifts for 300 women of this area with a separate basketball court, also equipped with solar floodlights for their children.”

“We are seeing the skills, generosity and lifestyle of these people. Let us think how to adopt this village with providing all the basic facilities to it, specially health and education,” said the US-based Pakistani philanthropist woman.

The people in coastal areas are the most vulnerable in terms of tsunamis, cyclones, floods and droughts. The people being frightened whenever receive warning call of tsunami, cyclone or flood they shift their families hurriedly to avoid any loss.


जलवायु का कहर मड़ूवा-कोदो पर

Desh Page4
ग्रामीण लोक कथाओं  में रोहा नामका एक हट्टा-कट्टा किसान हुआ था। उसका नाम रोहा था। कहा जाता है कि किसी फौजदारी मामले में वह जेल चला गया। इसी बीच आषाढ का महीना आया और इस महीने का आया रोहिणी नक्षत्र। इस नक्षत्र में जेल के सीखचों से बाहर हो रही बारिश को देखकर उस रोहा की अचानक आह निकल गयी। उसके मुंह से अनायास निकल पड़ा- ‘हाय रोहिणी, घर रोहा न रहा।’ ग्रामीण और किसान समाज में खेती को लेकर जो कुछ कहावतें प्रचलित रही हैं, उनमें इसे भी किसान बड़े चाव से कहा-सुना करते हैं। असल में हुआ यह था कि रोहा रोहिणी नक्षत्र में अपने खेतों में हर साल मड़ूवा की रोपनी करता था। यह मड़वा उसके पूरे परिवार के लिए साल भर के भोजन का आधार हुआ करता था। सो इस साल वह घर पर नहीं था और मड़ूवा न रोप पाने का उसका मलाल उसके साल भर के परिवार के भरण-पोषण का साधन छूट जाने को लेकर था। लोक कथा के अनुसार, जेलर ने उसकी व्यग्रता के बारे में पूछा तो रोहा ने अपनी व्यथा बताई। दयालु जेलर ने उसे मड़ूवा रोपने के लिए पेरोल पर छोड़ने की व्यवस्था करा दी। जब उसका रोहिणी में लगाया मड़ूवा कुछ बड़ा हुआ तो हाथी भी सूंड से उस पौधे के  झुंड को नहीं उखाड़ पाया।

अपने इलाके यानी, उत्तर बिहार में बड़े-बुजुर्गो से सुना है कि मुफलिसी में मड़वा सहारा होता है। यानि मड़वा के पुआल को लोग संजोकर रखते थे। बरसात के समय या ऐसे ही दुर्दिन में जब गांव-गिराम के गरीब लोगों के पास अनाज की कमी हो जाती थी, तो इसी पुआल को मसला जाता था। कहा जाता है कि मड़ूवा गरीबों का ऐसा सहारा था और ऐसा विश्वासी साथी कि इस पुआल से कुछ न कुछ मड़ूवा निकल ही आता था। लेकिन आज 20 साल की हो चुकी पीढ़ी में मड़वा की रोटी खाने की बात को दूर, शायद ही इस अनाज को किसी देखा भी हो।

इसी तरह का हाल परंपरागत रूप से पाए जानेवाले अनाजों का भी है। इन्हें आम तौर पर मोटा अनाज कहा जाता है। इन अनाजों में समां, कोदो, चीना, कउनी, आदि आते हैं। इनसे रोटी और भात बनाए जाते थे। खाने में भी इनका स्वाद कमाल का होता था। लेकिन अब इन अनाजों के दर्शन दुर्लभ हो गए हैं। पुरानी पीढ़ी के जिन लोगों ने इन अनाजों के स्वाद चख रखे हैं, आज वे इसका स्मरण कर लार टपकाते पाए जाते हैं।

मौसम की मार से पिसती कृषि

Sablog February

Article on pages 61 and 62 of this magazine.

जलवायु परिवर्तन के आशंकित संकटों को लेकर पिछले 20 सालों से दुनिया में घबराहट का माहौल बना हुआ है। इसी के चलते 1992 में रियो दि जनेरियो में आयोजित पहले पृथ्वी सम्मेलन से लेकर लगातार पृथ्वी सम्मेलनों का आयोजन होता आ रहा है। हाल ही में दोहा चक्र की वार्ता संपन्न हुई है। लेकिन दुखद पहलू यह है कि इसमें भी कोई ठोस नतीजा नहीं निकल सका है।

विकासशील देशों में जलवायु परिवर्तन का सर्वाधिक असर ग्रामीण और कृषि आधारित समुदायों पर पड़नेवाला है। फसलों के चक्र में परिवर्तन उनका नाश और लोगों के विस्थापन इस समस्या के अभिन्न अंग होंगे। दुनिया की आबादी में करीब 1.7 अरब लोग आज भी कृषि पर निर्भर हैं। इसलिए  जलवायु परिवर्तन की कोई भी सार्थक बातचीत कृषि की उपेक्षा कर नहीं की जा सकती।

Can India sweep up its soot challenge?

An increasing amount of research linking black carbon to global warming could bolster US efforts to make control of the pollutant part of the climate agenda. But with considerable scientific uncertainty persisting over the warming effects of soot, public health not climate change remains the main reason to clean up Asia’s dirty air. Click here to go to story.

Depleting natural lakes, a threat to desert ecosystem

A profile of Kalankar Lake


Kalankar Lake

This story depicts the situation of a complex of once scenic natural lakes, which were formed long ago when an old Hakro River would stream to the sea from the existing Tharparkar district, the desert area. It was also said to be the part of Indus Delta long ago, because the country coast is still bordering the desert district.

After years due to lack of government policies landlords deprived these wetlands of their share of water, discarded the same to dry. Politically influential persons even encroached upon the dried parts of the lakes and using the land for cultivation.

These lakes official have been linked to Nara Canal for receiving water. But due to different approach by the landlords and government officials these abandoned lakes turned into brackish water ponds because of frequent shortage of rains and blockage of the fresh water streams. This impacted badly on the ecosystem of Thar desert and destroyed resources of livelihoods of the communities, fishermen and herders living along the lakes through generations.

Flocks of birds, local and migratory birds used to come there, which have changed destinations because of depleting wetland, shortage of feed and its water quality.

These community people– fishermen use smaller boats operating without engine and herders wandering behind the herds of cows and camels—have more to say about the prosperous days they spent and rich biodiversity.

Major portion of the old Hakro river bed was the natural stream of the rain water to avoid floods, but it has been encroached for cultivation with building infrastructures, now causing flood destruction.  After several years, the lakes receive rain water when the flood-2011 hit the province and the communities heaved a sigh of relief, hoping they might remain safe.

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) struggling to restore these lakes by ensuring their water share like agriculture to preserve ecosystem and avoid impacts of climate change.