Rampant Forest Fires Ravaging Nepal

Researchers: Shradha Khadka and Nitu Rauniyar

Reports speculate that 2024 could be one of the worst years in the history of Nepal’s forest fire incidents, calling serious interventions and resource mobilization from different areas.

Reportedly, forest fires occur seasonally in Nepal. Around 80% of these incidents occur between the dry months of February and May and records show that forest fires destroy over 40,000 hectares of Nepal’s forest area annually, casting increasing damages with each passing year.

Out of 20,518 forest fire recorded in this decade, 3,814 occurred in 2023 alone.

Forest fires occurrence in seven Provinces of Nepal between March 18 and May 1, 2024

ProvinceNumber of Incident

Recent data[1] shows that all seven provinces of Nepal are witnessing rampant forest fires, and its impacts continue to severely affect the people, wild animals, birds, other species native to these forests.

Increasing forest coverage from 41% to 45% by 2022, Nepal has invested noticeably in forest conservation and management policies in the past four decades. However, with the ongoing wildfire incidents, the decades’ worth of efforts faces worsening threats of crisis, with limited resources and severe lack of preventive measures and immediate response plans.  

Impact of forest fires in numbers [2]

forest fire damages in 2024 
Death- 25
Injuries- 90
Housefires- 683
Livestock damages- 964
Total damage estimated- NRs. 528.38 million

It is significant to note that while the structural damages, human casualties and economic impacts are accounted for, long term impacts and accurate worth of forest fires damages endured by the environment and ecology is largely unaccounted for. Also, communities from low socio-economic status, Indigenous and historically marginalized groups are the ones who face its disproportionate effects.

Causes of forest fires in nepal

While forest fires are naturally-occurring, phenomena instigated by dry weather, elevated temperatures, lightning and natural friction, human-led activities have significantly contributed to increasing its occurrence. Some of such human activities are- 

  • Rid the agricultural residue products.
  • Clear agricultural land and fertilize soil.
  • Poachers and hunters set fire to trap and poach wild animals.
  • Human negligence.

Lasting impacts of forest fires on environment and ecology

Increase in forest fires between last week of February to last week of May 2024 in Nepal, is directly linked to increase in presence of toxic pollutants in the air such as CO, nitrogen oxide, PM2.5 and black carbon. Moreso, Kathmandu Valley bears its direct impact due to its bowl-shaped geography and regional weather patterns, as winds carrying the toxic matters from forest fires are trapped in the valley region. In addition, in the long run, following impacts of rampant forest fires are forecasted-

  • Rise in temperature/ heatwaves
  • Contribution to global warming in the long run
  • Hazardous levels of air pollution with elevated levels of particulate matter (pm)
  • Irreversible loss of biodiversity
  • Massive loss of wildlife habitat
impacts of forest fire:
Rise in temperature/ heatwaves  Contribution to global warming in the long run  Hazardous levels of air pollution with elevated levels of particulate matter (pm)  Irreversible loss of biodiversity  Massive loss of wildlife habitat

Status of Fire Engines to contain forest fires

In cases of fire emergencies, fire engines are one of the most important response measures. However, in Nepal, total 151 fire engines are available with 134 in working conditions in 109 local levels only. While 17 fire engines are stranded, 644 local levels out of 753 have not even purchased fire engines.[3]

The numbers assert that Nepal faces a critical shortage in firefighting resources at the local levels, highlighting a crucial need to focus on disaster response plans, especially in rural areas that face significant challenges due to inadequate infrastructure and limited access.

Agencies and policies responsible for control and management of forest fire

  • The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority: Focuses on disaster mitigation and management all over country.
  • Disaster and Conflict Management Division (Armed Police Force): Provides disaster management and neglected fire control and management training.
  • Forest Act (2019): Section 49 (d) of Forest Act (2019) states that those involved in any fire-related incidents inside the national forests are publishable by law, facing up to three–years of imprisonment or NRs. 60,000 fine or both.
  • Forest Fire Management Strategy (2010): Aims to establish and strengthen policies and organizational-level structures, mobilize local community, civil society, government, and non-government bodies, and make preparedness to take pre information about the possible risk from wildfire to manage forest fire. 

Although Nepal has made commendable progress in establishing forest fire management agencies and strategies, revisiting these strategies to evaluate its implementation and effectiveness is crucial, especially considering the relatively new federal context and changing socio-political landscape of the country.  

What can be done?

The ongoing rampant forest fires and their devastating effects have called for urgent actions to strengthen the national, provincial, and local level disaster response mechanisms in the country.

As some of the damage is irreversible in terms of its worth and existence, serious attention must be paid in deploying immediate and effective crisis response strategies. At the same time, strategies that focus on enhancing community preparedness and rapid response during fire emergencies are equally important.

Here are some recommendations that can be adopted in immediate circumstances as well as in the long run-

  • Identify high-risk zones to deploy priority based firefighting measures.
  • Train individuals in basic firefighting techniques for early intervention.
  • Plan and implement evacuation plans in cases of fire emergencies.
  • Engage community to learn about defensive and fire-resistant boundaries around local houses and building in fire risk zones.
  • Deploy disaster mitigation and management cycles in terms of risk reduction, preparedness and control, and rescue and recovery.
  • Train individuals to use Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System to monitor and identify fire prone zones and deploy trained human resource/teams to risky areas.
  • Engage community in awareness programs on forest fire prevention and control measures.
  • Focus on post-fire recovery and restoration strategy.