SWAT: Forest fires that broke out over the weekend continue to rage on in various locations of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat district, with the latest inferno reported by rescue teams in Kokarai on Sunday morning.
In the hills of Marghuzar, where a fire broke out yesterday morning, efforts to put out the inferno have failed and the fire now threatens to spread to nearby settlements.
Yesterday, a fire also broke out in the Kala Kot forest area of Swat’s Matta town. Efforts to put out the blaze were underway throughout the day, according to rescue teams.
Several teams of the Levies forces, rescue services and civil defence officials are taking part in fire dousing operations.
Last week, four people were killed after a fire erupted in Shangla district.
The fire broke out in the houses located on the hills of Shangla and spread rapidly due to the dry weather.
Furthermore, fires broke out earlier this month in Kabal, lower Dir, Barikot, and Charbagh.
Unfortunately, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has not been the only province to have witnessed the sudden eruption of fires.
Last month, a fire broke out in the pine forests of Balochistan which claimed several lives and injured a few people.
The fire that started on May 12 was brought under control but started again on May 20 due to hot and dry weather.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting and regretted that the country does not have the resources and expertise to deal with this kind of situation.
“I hope that the situation will be managed through the efforts of the departments concerned and the Pakistan Army,” he added.
The premier said that precautionary measures will be taken to protect the forests of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir and the federal government will be contacted in this regard. He added that a helicopter should be arranged to manage the situation immediately.
Climate change declared as major reason behind unprecedented forest fires
The Forestry, Environment and Wildlife Department has declared climate change as the major contributor behind unprecedented fire incidents in different forests of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In a detailed report prepared by the department on 210 incidents of forest fires occurring during period from May 23 to June 9, it is observed that rising temperatures, a key indicator of climate change, have caused more evaporation of moisture from the ground, drying out the soil and making vegetation more flammable.
At the same, winter snow peaks are melting about a month earlier, meaning that the forests are drier for longer periods of time.
“Natural causes include climate change, lightning, temperature transmission through rocks, drought and heat with rising greenhouse gas emissions. We expect more wildfires in the years ahead, especially with the fire seasons getting longer,” warns the report.
Below normal rainfall
Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) statistics for national rainfall for the month of March 2022 show rainfall was 62% below normal and the month was the ninth driest month since 1961. Rainfall was largely below normal over all parts of the country with Baluchistan (-66%), Sindh (-65%), Punjab (-65%), KP (-66%) & AJK (-48%).
National rainfall for the month of April 2022 was 74% below normal and the month was the second driest since 1961. Rainfall remained largely below normal over all parts of the country with Punjab (-89%), KP (-79%), Baluchistan (-78%), AJK (-56%) & GB (-51%).
National rainfall for the month of May 2022 was 48.4% below normal with Baluchistan (-91%), Sindh (-91%), GB (-59%), Punjab (-46%), AJK (-37%) & KP (-25%).
Therefore, the decrease in rainfall and inordinate increase in temperature is a trigger for fires, the report explains.
Regarding advertent or inadvertent human action by grazers, tourists, etc., it said that this year the biggest awareness drive was carried out by KP Forest Department during March and April, educating people through social media, banners, pamphlets and brochures.
The forest dependent communities traditionally burn dry grasses to get tender grass for livestock, which sometimes results in forest fires due to winds and “casual attitude of communities”, it noted.
— Additional input from APP.