Mobilizing early response for combating forest fire

15 Apr 2015

The SERVIR-Himalaya Initiative of ICIMOD, in collaboration with the Department of Forests (DoF) of Nepal, carried out field level awareness campaign in the most fire prone districts of Nepal.

The weeklong awareness campaign was carried out in the six districts of Kanchanpur, Kailali, Bardia, Chitwan, Makwanpur, and Parsa of the terai region from 16 to 23 March 2015. The terai region experience long dry summers, fueling frequent forest fires. On an average, two to three forest fires are reported daily and during peak seasons starting from April through June, more than 30 forest fires are reported in a day.

Participants at the awareness meeting in Kanchanpur district

More than 290 participants including representatives of different community forest user groups, forest range officers, Nepal Army, local fire fighters, and media in the six districts learned how the forest fire monitoring and detection system works. During the campaign, the participants said that SERVIR-Himalaya’s forest fire monitoring and detection system has been successful in alerting communities on fire hazards, thus allowing them to respond early and control forest fire.

The Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System developed by ICIMOD under the SERVIR-Himalaya framework uses satellite imagery to detect and locate forest fires. The system generates and disseminates three products: short message system (SMS) alerts, email notifications, and a web application for visualizing the latest fire data as well as historical data. The web application can also be exported to a PDF fire map. Currently, the system sends SMS alert to District Forest Officers and focal person of different community forest user groups.

A firefighter demonstrates water hose in Makwanpur district

“As information about forest fire in different locations is now available on mobile devices, we are able to mobilize individuals in that locality to control forest fire on time,” said Bharat Prasad Panuwar, Acting District Officer of the Chitwan district forest office. “We think all field in-charge and district officers should also get this SMS alert.”

Similarly, Raj Bahadur Raut, District Forest Officer of Parsa District, said the information system has helped in providing them with timely information on fire incidents in the district. He said that if the system is taken to the grassroots, it could further enhance resource mobilization.

“Recently, there was a forest fire near my locality and we were able to mobilize everyone to control the fire on time due to this SMS system,” said Tara Dhungana, Community Forest Advisor, Sundar Samudayak Ban Upakar Samuha. “Compared to others systems, this SMS system is very efficient for community mobilization.”

Preparations for forest fire control are in full swing in the six districts. The district forest officers have conducted meetings with community forest user groups and appointed watchmen in areas that are prone to forest fire. The forest fire information system is expected to further complement their efforts.

The awareness campaign gathered feedback from users on wider dissemination of the forest fire alert message. ICIMOD and the Department of Forest are currently working to provide information to a wider group of people.