Wildfire on the hills above the Muglin Highway. Chitwan. by Vishal Gurung
The majority of the wildfires in Nepal are caused by humans, and still, we are unable to minimize them. The situation highlights the need for an effective awareness drive. by Shankar Sharma and Sajesh Kuikel
Nepal, a Himalayan country, is currently going through prolonged dry spells with little to no rainfall, leading to drought conditions. Despite being on the cusp of the pre-monsoon season, the country has only experienced minimal rainfall since the last monsoon, which is inadequate to alleviate the drought conditions.
The lack of precipitation has caused significant water shortages, affecting agriculture, livestock and daily life in many areas of the country.
This dryness can also have negative consequences on our pride – the Himalayas. The Himalayas are not only natural beauty and wonder but also crucial to tourism and a source of water supply for many communities living downstream.
In the last decades, the country has experienced several drought episodes, a super El Niño in 2008/2009 and 2015/2016 that caused extreme drought, affecting over 1.7 million people and leading to a significant loss of agricultural crops and livestock. According to global climate forecasts, Nepal may face a severe rainfall crisis this year, potentially due to the development of an El Niño event. Climate models around the globe are also warning of a potential El Niño later this year, with some models suggesting the possibility of an extreme “super El Niño”, characterized by very high temperatures in the central Pacific around the equator.
If the forecast is correct, Nepal may face a severe rainfall crisis during the upcoming monsoon season.
The lack of rainfall during the monsoon season could worsen the existing drought situation, causing significant economic losses and exacerbating the country’s poverty, food insecurity, and disease outbreaks.
Much of the country is experiencing high temperatures (over 40 degrees Celsius in certain areas), which have worsened the existing dry conditions. As a result, the vegetation is drying out and the soil is getting parched. High temperatures and drought have led to severe wildfires, destroying vast forest areas, and wildlife habitats, and even affecting human settlements, creating a severe national threat. In addition to the devastation, the wildfires brought on by extreme heat and dryness also dramatically worsen the nation’s air quality.
Wildfires and air pollution often go hand in hand, as the smoke and particulate matter generated by fires can contribute to poor air quality in the local area and far downstream as smoke travels great distances.
Due to the wildfires, Kathmandu has been listed as one of the most polluted cities globally. The health of millions of people in cities like Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Bharatpur has been significantly harmed by poor air quality, including cardiovascular and respiratory ailments. Such severe air pollution has a direct impact on the environment and an indirect impact on economic activity, as Pokhara International Airport had to be closed on April 16 due to low visibility.
Ongoing climate change is a reality that is causing a range of environmental and socio-economic challenges globally. In South Asia, the impact of climate change is especially concerning, as the region is facing more frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, floods, and wildfires.
These events are expected to worsen in the coming years, as climate models predict that the average temperature of the region will continue to rise.
Nepal, in particular, is vulnerable to the impact of high temperatures, droughts, and wildfires, given its unique geography and climate. The country has experienced severe drought episodes in the past, which serve as a warning of the devastating effects of climate change on the environment and the people. Last year, record-breaking numbers of wildfires resulted in severe air pollution in Nepal, posing a significant threat to public health, safety, and the environment. Unfortunately, this year is no exception.
Immediate action must, therefore, be taken to address the root causes and mitigate its impact on the environment and people’s well-being.
The majority of the wildfires in Nepal are caused by humans, and still, we are unable to minimize such episodes.
The situation highlights the need for an effective awareness campaign, and understanding of the socio-economic and health consequences of droughts, wildfires, and air pollution by the public, government bodies, and policymakers.
Further, to mitigate the impact of wildfires and air pollution, implementing effective land management practices, such as controlled burns and reforestation, are important to reduce their risks. Furthermore, it is essential to implement policies that support sustainable development, lower carbon emissions and mitigate climate change as they play a crucial role in dealing with the long-term effects of high temperatures, droughts, and wildfires on the environment and public health.
These policies can help reduce the release of greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy, which can help combat the negative effects of climate change to some extent. By promoting sustainable development, it is possible to create long-lasting benefits for both the economy and the environment.
It is, therefore, imperative to prioritize such policies in order to create a sustainable future for the country and to effectively mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. It’s time for the government and policymakers to take urgent action to tackle the problem and implement effective water management practices, including water conservation, storage, and distribution systems.
Now is the time to take proactive measures to prepare for potential drought and rainfall crises, as well as to build resilience in the country’s infrastructure and communities to withstand the impact of climate change.
Sharma is a research Associate at the Central Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, Tribhuvan University, and Kuikel is a Master’s student at Pulchowk Engineering Campus