Earth’s landscape has been subjected to both natural and anthropogenic fires for millions of years.
Natural, lightning-caused fires are known to have occurred in geological time continuously at least since the late Silurian epoch, 400 million years ago, and have shaped the evolution of plant communities.
Hominids have used controlled fire as a tool to transform the landscape since about 700,000 years ago. These hominids were Homo erectus, ancestors of modern humans. Paleofire scientists, biogeographers and anthropologists all agree that hominid use of fire for various purposes has extensively transformed the vegetation of Earth over this period.
The nature of Earth’s modern-day biomes would be substantially different if there had been no fires at all. William Bond and colleagues (2005) used a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model to simulate the area under closed forest with and without fire. They estimated that in the absence of fire, the area of closed forest would double from the present 27% to 56% of present vegetated area, with corresponding increase in biomass and carbon stocks. This would be at the expense of C4 grasslands and certain types of shrub-land in cooler climates.
According to a recent study published in Science Advances, climate change is projected to hit South Asia especially hard.
Impacts will be particularly intense in the food and agriculture sector. A region inhabited by about one-fifth of the world’s people, South Asia and its densely populated agricultural areas face unique and severe natural hazards. Its food system is particularly vulnerable. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA)-- which is an integrated approach to managing landscapes that is focused on increasing agricultural productivity, improving resilience to climate change, and reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions—is part of the solution.
The World Bank is working to mainstream climate smart agriculture in South Asia with a series of Climate-Smart Agriculture or “CSA” Country Profiles for Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, that were launched recently in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders. The findings in the profiles are specific to national contexts, but there is a common thread. We learned that for South Asia, climate change adaptation and mitigation pose major challenges and opportunities for agriculture sector investment and growth.
The farmers, Government representatives and other stakeholders I met during the CSA Country Profile launches expressed huge interest in learning how they can put CSA into practice. Farmers especially were interested in making CSA part of their daily farming routines. As interest grows, so does momentum to take the CSA agenda forward, from research institutions and high level gatherings into farmer’s fields. As one farmer I met in Pakistan said, “Climate-smart agriculture is Common-sense agriculture.”
Climate change is already impacting Pakistan, which often experiences periods of severe droughts, followed by devastating floods. In the aftermath of the 2010 floods, one fifth of the country’s land area was submerged, damaging the economy, infrastructure and livelihoods, and leaving 90 million people without proper access to food. Moving forward, changes in monsoons and increased temperatures will further challenge the agricultural sector, particularly northern Pakistan where vulnerability to climate change is already high.
At the same time, CSA offers attractive opportunities for strengthening Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Innovative, technological practices like laser land leveling and solar powered irrigation systems and management changes like crop diversification, proper cropping patterns and optimized planting dates could put Pakistan’s food system onto a more climate-smart path. Investments in research to develop high-yielding, heat-resistant, drought-tolerant, and pest-resistant crop varieties as well as livestock breeds could also make a difference.
On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management. The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society. One of the participating countries, Mexico, has recently transformed its national policy on forest fires. Alfredo Nolasco Morales, Wildland Fire Protection Manager at Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) shared his insights on what this transformation has meant for Mexico, how it was achieved, and how it may serve as an inspiration for India as the Indian government prepares a new national action plan for forest fires.
Mexico’s forest fire program has operated for more than 70 years. On average, 7,500 fires occur each year, affecting 300,000 hectares of pasture, scrubland, forest, and regrowth. Recently, however, the country has experienced some especially bad years, including in 2017, when fires burned 715,714 hectares and killed 12 people. Extreme climatic conditions and the accumulation of fuels such as dry leaves, twigs, grasses, dead trees, and fallen timber have contributed to especially severe fire seasons.
Until 2012, Mexico’s national forest fire program focused on the complete suppression of fires by contracting helicopters to douse the flames. State forest fire programs were weak and there was little institutional coordination.
The three-day international workshop on forest fires organized by the World Bank and the Forest Ministry of India is a watershed event in the management of forest fires in the country (1-3rd November 2017). On the first day, discussions were held on the latest technology being used to alert foresters to fires.
Almost all fires in India are set by people intentionally or unintentionally. For instance, forest-dependent communities in central India burn the forest floor to encourage the growth of tender tendu leaves, and to collect mahua flowers which standout easily on the charred forest floor.
In the northeast and some parts of central India, forests are rotationally burnt to ashes to enrich the soil for agriculture. After a few seasons of cropping, the depleted area is left to nature and the trees grow back once again. In the western Himalayas, pine needles are cleared every year to encourage the growth of grass for cattle-fodder. When pine needles full of resin pile up year after year, it takes just one spark from a careless smoker to burn down an entire forest of enormous value.
In remote areas, forest fires may not be detected for hours or even days, leading to an irreversible loss of forest wealth. Like any other hazard, the earlier one gets to know about the outbreak, the better it is for both the authorities and the people. Since traditional ways of gathering information from people perched on watch towers are not very effective, satellite sensors that can detect heat and smoke from space have now come to the rescue of foresters across the country.
Today, the Forest Survey of India, in partnership with the National Remote Sensing Centre, uses these satellite detections to alert foresters across the country about the exact location of forest fires. All steps in the detection and dissemination process have been fully automated – including the processing of satellite data, filtering out fires that burn outside forests, composing personalized SMSs to relevant people, as well as sending them across. This system has helped fire alerts to reach people within 45 minutes to 1 hour of detection, enabling foresters to reach the spot quickly and contain the damage.
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.
At the launch of the Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU), our Twitter chat #SLDU2017: Environmental Benefits of Economic Management set out to explore how Sri Lanka could meet the twin challenges of increasing its physical and financial resilience.
The panel comprised experts from the World Bank - Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough; Senior Economist Ralph van Doorn and senior environmental specialist Darshani De Silva – and Kanchana Wickramasinghe, a research economist in the Institute of Policy Studies. Together, they unpacked the SLDU, discussed its key findings and fielded questions from across the region around its main themes.
The bi-annual report, notes key economic developments over the preceding months, placing them in a longer term and global perspective; in the Special Focus section, it explores topics of particular policy significance to Sri Lanka.
Ralph started with the idea that Sri Lanka faces a window of opportunity during which key reforms could transform the country and its economy. He noted that Sri Lanka’s position in the global economy improved its global growth prospects, as well as that of its key export partners. Low commodity prices and the restoration of the GSP+ preferential trade arrangement with the EU had also combined to improve the outlook for the Sri Lankan economy.
For Idah, the country’s mood and the government’s commitment to change were critical to success:
The panel delved into how natural disasters and extreme weather events posed a threat to Sri Lanka’s growing economy. In the short-term the damage was clear and serious, with losses amounting to several billions a year, as Idah noted in her blog. During the chat, she emphasised how Sri Lanka needed to be prepared for future disasters or it would cost the country enormously.
Kanchana pointed out that in the long-term, disasters could set back poverty alleviation efforts, especially in agricultural and rural areas, adding:
With the chat underway, questions poured in from an online audience who were interested in diverse issues – from managing Sri Lanka’s ongoing drought and its impact on the Northern Province to what insights the SLDU had to offer other countries in the region such as India.
The media, with few exceptions, have moved on to other topics and a sense of calm pervades.
We are in the eye of the storm -- that misleading lull before mother nature unleashes her fury once again.
In Sri Lanka alone, costs from natural disasters, losses from damage to housing, infrastructure, agriculture, and from relief are estimated at LKR 50 billion (approx. USD 327 million). The highest annual expected losses are from floods (LKR 32 billion), cyclones or high winds (LKR 11 billion), droughts (LKR 5.2 billion) and landslides (LKR 1.8 billion). This is equivalent to 0.4 percent of GDP or 2.1 percent of government expenditure. (#SLDU2017). Floods and landslides in May 2016 caused damages amounting to US$572 million.
These numbers do not paint the full picture of impact for those most affected, who lost loved ones, irreplaceable belongings, or livestock and more so for those who are back to square one on the socio-economic ladder.
Even more alarming, these numbers are likely to rise as droughts and floods triggered by climate change will become more frequent and severe. And the brief respite in between will only get shorter, leaving less time to prepare for the hard days to come.
Therefore, better planning is even more necessary. Sri Lanka, like many other countries has started to invest in data that highlights areas at risk, and early warning systems to ensure that people move to safer locations with speed and effect.
Experience demonstrates that the eye of the storm is the time to look to the future, ready up citizens and institutions in case of extreme weather.
Now is the time to double down on preparing national plans to respond to disasters and build resilience.
It’s the time to test our systems and get all citizens familiar with emergency drills. But, more importantly, we need to build back better and stronger. In drought-affected areas, we can’t wait for the rains and revert to the same old farming practices. It’s time to innovate and stock up on critical supplies and be prepared when a disaster hits.
It’s the time to plan for better shelters that are safe and where people can store their hard-earned possessions.
Mobilizing and empowering communities is essential. But to do this, we must know who is vulnerable – and whether they should stay or move. Saving lives is first priority, no doubt. Second, we should also have the necessary systems and equipment to respond with speed and effect in times of disasters. Third, a plan must be in place to help affected families without much delay.
Fortunately, many ongoing initiatives aim to do just that.
This is the third of a three-part series, Resilience in the of the Eye of the Storm, on how Bangladesh has become a leader in coastal resilience.
Over the years, Bangladesh has taken major strides to reduce the vulnerability of its people to disasters and climate change. And today, the country is at the forefront in managing disaster risks and building coastal resilience.
Let’s compare the impact of the Bhola Cyclone of 1970 to the far stronger Cyclone Sidr in 2007. The 1970 cyclone was then the deadliest in Bangladesh’s history, and one of the 10 deadliest natural disasters on record. Official documents indicate that over 300,000 lives were lost, and many believe the actual numbers could be far higher.
By contrast, Sidr was the strongest cyclone to ever make landfall in Bangladesh. This time, fewer than 3,500 people lost their lives. While tragic, this represents about 1% of the lives lost in 1970 or 3% of the nearly 140,000 lost lives in the 1991 cyclone.
The cyclones of 1970 and 1991 were unprecedented in scale. Yet, they steered the country into action.
دسترسی به اطلاعات درمورد خطرات طبیعی یک امر حیاتی محسوب میگردد، بالخصوص در کشور آسیب پذیری مانند افغانستان که از هر پنج نفر نفوس آن، چهار نفر وابسته به منابع طبیعی غرض امرار معیشت می باشند. برای تقویت قابلیت انعطاف پذیری در مقابله با حوادث طبیعی، سرمایه گذاری ها در افغانستان روی جمع اوری اطلاعات در رابطه به آفات طبیعی نهایت ضروری پنداشته شده، تا این اطلاعات شامل برنامه ریزی، طرح و تطبیق برنامه های رویدست گرفته شده، شامل گردد. برای حمایت از تلاش های دولت افغانستان، بانک جهانی با اداره تسهیلات جهانی برای کاهش حوادث و احیای مجدد در همکاری نزدیک وزارت دولت در امور رسیدگی به حوادث اخیراً یک ارزیابی جامع خطرات چندگانه مشخصات خطر، را تهیه نموده که هدف آن مستند سازی اطلاعات درباره خطرهای احتمالی و بالقوه از ناحیه سیلاب های رود خانه یی و ناگهانی، خشکسالی ها، لغزش زمین، برف کوچ ها و زلزله می باشد. روی عمده ترین موضوعات یافته های این ارزیابی، میتودولوژی (روش)، و نتایج متوقعه، اخیراً در یک نشت بخش مدیریت خطرات ناشی از حوادث گروپ بانک جهانی بحث و گفتگو صورت گرفت. بعضی نکات مهمی که در این بحث مطرح شد، قرار ذیل است:
مشخصات خطر و آسیب پذیری افغانستان چیست؟
- سیلاب ها یکی از حوادث طبیعی مکرر درطول تاریخ در افغانستان بوده، که بطور اوسط سالانه تخمیناً ۵۴ میلیون دالر امریکایی خساره وارد میکند؛ سیلاب های ناگهانی بزرگ بالاتر از ۵۰۰ میلیون دالر خسارات را وارد کرده می تواند.
- از لحاظ تاریخی، زلزله بیشترین تلفات را به میان آورده است، که از سال ۱۹۸۰ به بعد سبب هلاکت بیش از ۱۰۰۰۰ نفر گردیده است.
- حدود سه میلیون نفر در معرض خطرات بسیار بلند لغزش زمین قرار دارند.
- از سال ۲۰۰۰ تا اکنون، در حدود ۶،۵ میلیون نفر بر اثر خشکسالی ها متضرر شده و خشکسالی شدید می تواند سکتور زراعت افغانستان را تخمیناً ۳ میلیارد دالر خسارمند سازد و این کشور را با قلت جدی مواد خوراکی مواجه سازد.
تخمیناً ۱۰۰۰۰ کیلومتر سرک (۱۵ درصد تمامی سرک های افغانستان) در معرض خطر برف کوچ قرار دارند که در میان آن شاهراه های کلیدی مانند شاهراه
سالنگ شامل می باشد.