THOUGH spot and forest fires have become a perennial phenomenon especially in peak summer, the recent blazes — which include some due to alleged acts of arson — are symptomatic of the devil-may-care attitude of officials and the public towards protecting nature. Fires were seen on Sunday and Monday in the Saidpur and Chinari areas of the Margalla Hills; large fires were also reported over the weekend from forests in Kahuta, Kallar Syedan and Kotli Sattian areas. News of the Margalla forest fires broke a couple of days ago when they were featured in two TikTok videos on social media. Most striking was the nonchalance of the Islamabad officials who remained oblivious to the blaze in the capital’s own backyard — although it originated in KP — until they came in for harsh criticism on social media. Earlier this month, a similar fire had erupted on one of the picturesque Murree hills; evidently spreading over several acres, it could be seen from miles away.
That the authorities were caught woefully ill-prepared and mostly relied on the local communities’ conventional ways of beating the fire out, is cause for immense alarm. The country is gripped by a severe heatwave, and the fires — one of which reportedly blazed for days — could have easily spread out of control and caused damage to life and property, besides posing a serious environmental hazard. Moreover, the authorities’ claims that fires are mostly caused by mischief-makers, tourists, or the timber mafia (to hide evidence of their activities), is a flimsy excuse for their inaction. Given this, the announcement by Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman that fire vigilance in the affected areas would be beefed up is a long-awaited step in the right direction. While the arsonists must of course be punished, such vandalism can be easily prevented by a permanent fire vigilance force, even a small one, with requisite professional training. Nature reserves should be protected at all costs if we are to have a fighting chance of surviving the impact of climate change.
Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2022