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The Largest Forest Fire in Nepal, Can it be Restored?

Forest fire engulfing the old forests of Nepal leading to unprecedented global ecological havoc. The approaches to restore and effectiveness to conserve the forest is must to avoid its adverse consequences.

May 18, 2024

The forests of Nepal are incredibly valuable for maintaining the ecological balance of the Himalayas, as they are located at the heart of the Hindu Kush Himalayas. The forests vary from tropical and sub-tropical to temperate and alpine broadleaved, as well as temperate and alpine conifer, and minor temperate and alpine associations. These green areas play a crucial role in providing cooling shade to the mountains, protecting them from melting due to the effects of global warming. If the warm air flow from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea is not adequately cooled on its way, it can accelerate the melting of the mountains. In recent days, unusual and unexpected floods have been reported in glacial streams around villages in the Manang, Mustang, and Manaslu regions of Nepal due to the melting of mountain caps near those villages. The Himalayas in the region are equally vital, as Nepal holds the world’s third-largest freshwater reserves originating from the Himalayas, which quench the thirst of people in the south. In Nepal, both the community and the responsible conservation office are deficient in implementing effective and modern firefighting measures to distinguish between raging forest fires and safety. The forests of Nepal carries greatest value in maintaining ecological balance of the Himalayas being at the heart of Hindu Kush Himalayas. The variation of forests ranges from Tropical and Subtropical, Temperate and alpine broadleaved, Temperate and alpine conifer to Minor temperate and alpine associations. Those green line aligned just below the Himalayas are vital to provide cooling shed to the mountains hence protecting it from melting due to global warming effects. About the available vegetation in Nepal.

The warmer flow of air from Indian Ocean if not cooled sufficiently in its way before it can strike those shining mountains can melt it faster and forever. In the recent days the unusual and surprising floods has been recorded in glacial streams around villages of Manang, Mustang and Manaslu region of Nepal  due to the melting of mountain caps near those villages. The Himalayas in the region is equally vital as Nepal holds world’s third largest fresh water reserves generating from Himalayas and it quench the thirst of people in south. The ineffective and old style firefighting measures in practice by both community and the responsible office for conservation is largely deficit in drawing line between blazing forest fire and safety in Nepal. A senior officer from the Nepal Army provided an uninformed explanation of the fire safety measures being implemented by his personnel, following the tragic death of four individuals during a fire incident in Khotang Thulibheri. Official reports indicated that Nepal had experienced over 4,500 wildfires by the beginning of 2024, double the number recorded during the same period in 2023. This alarming surge in wildfires within a small country like Nepal poses a significant threat to the preservation of the Himalayas and its associated ecology. On May 7, 2024, Anil Pokhrel, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, openly acknowledged the government’s negligence in protecting Nepal’s forests. He also highlighted that the financial aid provided by the international community to safeguard Nepal’s ecology and the Himalayas is being misappropriated to cover up corruption within both local and national governing bodies.

Global Wildfire Date

Forest Fires during the beginning of May 2024, By Nasa

The urgency of protecting the forest at the Heart of Hindu Kush Himalayas in Nepal cannot be overstated. The consequences of inaction are dire and immediate. Why to protect forest?

  1. Decrease the pace of sea-level rise

The increasing deforestation in the Himalayan region has led to a decrease in the range’s ability to radiate heat, resulting in the formation of numerous fragile glacial lakes that are expanding in volume, number, and size each year. Unnatural floods have become more frequent in the glacial streams of the Himalayas, as reported by local trekking guides. According to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, there has been a significant increase in global glacier ice loss over the last 30 years, amounting to 335 billion tons per year during the period from 2006-2016. This has led to an almost 1 millimeter per year rise in sea levels. The melted ice from glaciers accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the current observed increase in global sea levels. Suppose the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas cannot be slowed down. In that case, the entire civilization below these mountain ranges is at risk of collapse due to the exponentially rising sea levels.

2. Protect Himalayan Caps from Sunburn. 

The forests below the Himalayan range are crucial for cooling and radiating heat, which helps prevent the mountain caps from melting. These forests redirect the hot air from the southern hemisphere and the Indian Ocean, cooling it before it reaches the Himalayan surfaces. If these forests are depleted or destroyed, the increased heat could quickly melt the snow, turning the mountains into rocky terrain instead of snow-capped peaks. The forests are known to be excellent at absorbing radiation, so protecting the tree lines below the Himalayas is essential for preventing the mountains from melting due to sun exposure.

Recent Forest Fire in Nepal

3. Regulate Rain-cycle

The visible change in the weather patterns of the Himalayan region, particularly in Nepal, is cause for concern. The monsoon season rainfall has decreased by 40%, and the lowest temperature in the region has risen by 27% for seven consecutive years. As a result, farmers in the country can no longer cultivate their seasonal crops at the usual time of year, and they can no longer rely on traditional weather patterns for their farming processes. This demonstrates the potential losses that could occur if the forest is destroyed. Nepal’s forests are highly vulnerable to destruction due to irresponsible construction activities carried out by both the government and private sector.

An article on forest ecosystems published by Springer concludes, “This study demonstrates that rainfall during the wet period was the primary influencer of hydrological functioning, while forests played a significant role in regulating water balance, soil moisture, and sediment budget through various forest components at the catchment scale in the Central Himalayan Region.”

The hilly region, known as the radiation shield region, located just below the Himalayas and stretching from Kazakhstan, Kashmir, Nepal to Darjeeling, Bhutan, and Burma, must never be depleted in order to counteract rising global temperatures.

Misguided development approaches of South Asia adversely impacting forest existence

The governments and private sector in South Asian countries are heavily focused on developing infrastructure, but they seem to be overlooking the ecological impacts on the natural environment at project sites. The infrastructure being developed in the region does not meet the minimum environmental standards required in the 21st century. While there are privately owned Environmental Impact Assessment organizations monitoring development projects, their reports do not accurately reflect the actual effects and analysis. As a result, the infrastructures being built are causing significant adverse impacts on the region’s nature and ecology. The forest areas in South Asian countries are being destroyed by fires, aggressive logging, road constructions, urbanization, and the expansion of electric lines. In Nepal, the government, operating under a multi-party system, has been consistently contributing to mass desertification for their so-called dream projects. The government’s official conservation units are ineffective in preserving the forest in meaningful ways.

Why and How to Restore the Forest of Nepal

It’s essential to recognize the critical role played by the forests below the Himalayas in Nepal. These forests act as a barrier, protecting the mountain caps of the Himalayas from the hot winds originating from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Without this natural barrier, the mountains in Nepal would be at risk of erosion, leaving behind only bare rocks. The Himalayan region of Nepal is home to eight of the world’s tallest mountains, making it the heart of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, which stretches from Tajikistan to Lhasa in Tibet. If the Himalayan caps in Nepal are not safeguarded, the entire Himalayan range in the Hindu Kush Himalayas could face a rapid collapse. This would not only have local impacts but also affect the cold chain that extends from the Himalayas to the North Pole, passing through Russia, Greenland, and the North and South Atlantic Ocean, leading to its potential extinction. The consequences of such a scenario could be catastrophic, contributing to rising sea levels globally and even impacting wildlife, such as polar bears resorting to cannibalization due to the changing climate.

Nepal’s Position in Globe

Use of Natural Streams inside forest

The primary cause of deforestation in Nepal is the recurring wildfires. The lack of resources, preparedness, and commitment from local authorities to control these fires has led to the rapid destruction of significant and ancient forests. The escalating number of fire incidents without any corresponding action from the authorities has created a critical situation for Nepal’s existing forests. Implementing natural streams within the forests and the government’s proactive approach to establishing rapid response teams in each forest can help mitigate these local fire incidents.

Reforestation

Reforestation campaigns can help restore depleted forests and combat desertification in large areas. This involves planting species from the original forest in the expanded areas of existing forests, barren forest areas, and unused forest land. The introduction of ornamental plants alongside existing forest vegetation was part of a reforestation campaign initiated by HAT to engage the local community. It is possible to vary the plant species based on geographical suitability and the needs of conservation efforts.

Reforestation campaign by HAT

Responsibility 

It is essential for every individual to recognize the value of forests and feel responsible for their preservation before we can expect the community to take action. Creating widespread awareness about the harmful effects of climate change and the destruction of nature on the daily lives of humans and animals, particularly those living near natural resources like forests and rivers, is crucial.

WWF explains the status and vitality of forest in Nepal as below:

Nepal’s forests are home to multitude of flora and fauna that range across the Terai to the middle and high mountains of the country. Forests occupy roughly 44% of the country’s landmass and includes areas both within and outside protected areas and other wooded lands.

Nepal’s forests occupy rougly 5.96 million hectares of landmass, with the forests of Terai serving as a source of revenue through timber exports to India. However forest management was paid relatively little attention until the 1930s (1990 BS). Meanwhile, forests were also used as collective resources under systems such as Kipat and Guthi by indigenous people and local communities until the 1950s (2007 BS). The practice of transferring tenure rights of forests by rulers to their families or people of interest in the form of Birta or Jagir was also prevalent during this period. In 1957 (2013 BS), the government nationalized all forests of Nepal considering them as property of the state. Protection of national forests were regulated after the formulation of Forest Act in 1962 (2018 BS). The nationalization of forests however limited local community ownership over the surrounding forests, contesting its protection. 

In order to enhance the role of local communities in forest resource protection and management, the government launched the Panchayat Forest and Panchayat Protected Forest in 1978 (2035 BS) which gave rise to the notion of community-based forest management in Nepal. Community based forest management has been mainstreamed in Nepal’s forest management after the endorsement of Master Plan for Forestry Sector in 1988.

Renowned Columnist and Economist Dr. Achyut Wagle in an article highlights the fire disaster climate change impacts like: 

“To take a rather cynical view, the failure of rich and influential countries to prevent, control and manage fire-related disasters might compel them to walk the talk on preventing the adverse impacts of climate change. Otherwise, instead of initiating meaningful action, the First World has only lectured developing nations on their responsibility and the importance of containing carbon emissions and global warming. The largest polluting countries have no plans to compromise their luxuries of travelling by personal cars, consuming fossil-fuel-generated electricity, switching off their air conditioners and refrigerators, reducing air travel and curtailing the ship-cargo-supported international trade. Replacement of energy sources for these fossil fuel intensive livelihood trends is not yet on the horizon. There is no sincere willingness to change the behaviour of the governments and citizens to that end.

The euphemism of clean, green or renewable energy is only tokenism or sugar-coated saga. On the one hand, there has not been serious consideration and planning to completely replace petroleum-fueled electricity generation. Not a single moderate-sized economy is contemplating that end, let alone the large ones. The scientific community has not even piloted research to operate long-haul aircraft and ships with renewable energy. Large crafts and shipbuilders have already accepted large commercial delivery orders for the next two decades.

On the other, the scope of hydroelectricity is limited and more prone to uncertainty in the face of rapidly depleting sources like snow. The overhyped scope of clean energy from alternative sources like solar, wind, geothermal, etc., would certainly reduce direct emission of carbon dioxide, but components they use can only be produced by over-extraction of different metals and minerals. Their smelting and processing are beyond imagination without using fossil fuels in direct or indirect forms. The same applies to producing components and batteries needed for “renewable” energy and electric cars. The possible pollution, for example, from the used/disposed batteries, will perhaps be more hazardous as unrecyclable chemical and radioactive waste compared to fossil fuel-induced pollution. A monolithic energy transformation narrative is, therefore, only for political consumption.

Not only in fuel consumption, transportation and production technologies, but all so-called disruptive scientific discoveries have proven more destructive than supportive to humanity and mother earth. The culmination of nuclear technology is impending nuclear warfare among the global superpowers. The aviation industry produces more war planes than passenger aircraft. Weapon and ammunition manufacturing has used more technology than the vaccine and life-saving drug industry. Information technology has created an addictive social media anarchy with a huge psychological toll on the young and future generations. Whether artificial intelligence would prove a better tool to enhance humanity or otherwise is yet to be seen.

An answer to the question of whether the invention of robots, drones or digital human replicas supported the poor, marginalised and deprived lot of humanity in any form is yet hardly affirmative. Equally intriguing is whether the insatiable quest for economic growth of countries and the prosperity of individuals were possible without harming the earth’s sustainability.

Even before the crises related to carbon emission, water scarcity and biodiversity loss, wildfires on the overheated earth’s surface may soon make the planet uninhabitable to entire species of plants and animals. The helplessness in dealing with it is already evident in the utter shame of scientific and technological advancements.

If human sensitivity and empathy are not restored, science alone is unlikely to reverse this destructive consumerism, which is costing life on planet Earth itself.”

About Our Posts

Information shared with years of research based trip operation experience in the Himalayas. Every blog posts has reality based encounters and continuous observation in practical setups.

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