THE forest fire on the Koh-i-Sulaiman range in Balochistan’s Shirani area is among a series of blazes to have erupted in the country in the past few weeks. Though the eruption of such spontaneous fires has become more frequent in recent years, the phenomenon has been especially fierce this season owing to the ongoing record-breaking heatwave. During this month alone, the extremely hot and dry weather has caused fires to erupt in forests in the Musari and Phapreer areas in Murree, Kamalia near Toba Tek Singh and Kahuta. Meanwhile, the Shirani inferno has reportedly consumed around 30pc of the pine nut forest, although with the help of Iran’s aerial firefighting efforts, the authorities claim that the blaze has nearly been put out.
Undoubtedly, these fires are a by-product of the larger phenomenon of climate change, that is also responsible for the soaring temperatures being experienced across the country. However, the authorities’ tackling of these fires exposes the government’s forest management and disaster response systems as underprepared to handle freak climatic events. Balochistan government officials admitted as much when they stated they were caught ‘off guard’ and ‘unprepared’ by the ‘extremely dangerous’ crown fire, which is a blaze that spreads from treetop to treetop. Moreover, the high altitude of the affected forest — between 1,200m and 3,300m —also made it difficult to douse the flames for a number of reasons. A similarly delayed response was witnessed in the case of the recent fires that started on the KP side of the Margalla forest near Abbottabad. This is extremely worrisome, especially since research indicates that such heatwaves will only become more frequent and more intense with time. According to the Global Food Policy Report 2022, heatwaves such as the ongoing one in the country will increase at the shocking rate of 0.71 days per decade in Pakistan. Though Balochistan officials have vowed increased vigilance of forests, that in itself is not enough unless the forest department staff is trained to prevent such incidents and equipped with the requisite gear. Perhaps the federal climate change ministry can provide some guidance to provincial departments and gradually work on setting up a small but efficient force of professional forest rangers who are trained to prevent and contain dangerous forest fires. With the damaging effects of climate change already upon us, it is high time that we adjusted to grim new realities and took measures to pre-empt the adverse effects of changing weather patterns.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2022