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India joins other countries in tackling forest fires

Christopher Sall's picture

Fire has been a part of India’s landscape since time immemorial. Every year, forest fires rage through nearly every state, ravaging more than half of India’s districts. Today, with growing populations in and around the forests, these fires are putting more lives and property at risk.  Indian Space Research Organization estimates that in 2014 alone, nearly 49,000 sq.km of forests - larger than the size of Haryana – were burned during the peak fire months of February to May. And, this was a mild year compared to the recent past! 



But, forest fires can also be beneficial. They play a vital role in maintaining healthy forests, recycling nutrients, helping trees to regenerate, removing invasive weeds and lantana, and maintaining habitat for some wildlife.  Occasional fires can also keep down fuel loads that feed larger, more destructive conflagrations.  However, as populations and demands on forest resources grow, the cycle of fires has spun out of balance, and the fires no longer sustain forest health.  In fact, in many countries, wildfires are burning larger areas, and fire seasons are growing longer due to a warming climate. 

Incentives and Values in Conflict-Prone Countries

Eliana Cardoso's picture

One of the most extraordinary examples of the use of economic principles comes from the beginning of the 19th century, when England used to send a huge number of prisoners to Australia. The government originally paid the ship captain a pre-determined amount for each prisoner that boarded the ship, but half of them would die during the journey. In 1862, Edwin Chadwik, knowing that people respond to incentives, told the U.K. government to pay captains according to the number of prisoners that actually disembarked in Australia. With this adjustment, the survival rate increased from 50% to 98.5%.

This example illustrates how incentives can do wonders in some circumstances. Yet, human actions are not always guided by the same calculations made by a profit maximizing ship captain. Behavioral economists have emphasized that we respond to a deep ingrained sense of fairness. Culture and values are crucial in understanding human behavior and promoting healthy and stable societies.