Image of hillside forest and smoke
Forest fire on the hillsides in Nepal. | Photo credit: SERVIR Global

Fortifying Forest Fire Forecasting for Nepal

By SERVIR Global

Between January 1 and June 16, 2023, Nepal experienced 2,294 forest fires–118 percent more than in all of 2022, according to the country’s Department of Forests and Soil Conservation (DoFSC). This unprecedented spike in forest fires is attributed to a dry winter and minimal rainfall resulting from climate change.

Fires play an important role in forest ecosystems by encouraging vegetation growth and strengthening resilience to disease. Forests also are critical to mitigating climate change because they store carbon. However, climate change makes forest fires unpredictable. They can rapidly shift from low-intensity, low-severity events to catastrophically destructive, stand-replacing blazes that threaten ecosystems, wildlife, and human communities worldwide, significantly lowering air quality and adversely affecting public health. 

In Nepal, forest fire “season” typically starts in December, peaks in April, and recedes with the monsoon in June. This year, the surge in forest fires led to worsened air quality, which impacted human and animal health and reduced visibility, and caused numerous flight cancellations and delays in major airports.

To help authorities better monitor and manage forest fires, SERVIR’s partner in the mountainous Hindu Kush and Himalaya (HKH) region, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), developed a two-day fire outlook that provides a general index of fire risk throughout Nepal’s forests. This is the first early warning system for forest fires in Nepal. The outlook enables government forest fire managers to anticipate and prepare for fires, make informed decisions about deploying resources, implement fire prevention measures, and carry out controlled burns to reduce risk.

“This is the first early warning system for forest fires in Nepal. It is a significant enhancement in our efforts to provide innovative and effective remote sensing and geospatial solutions to address forest fires in Nepal,” said Birendra Bajracharya, SERVIR-HKH Chief of Party.

This fire outlook provides a reliable and accurate nationwide assessment of potential fire dangers. It uses temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and precipitation data from the High-Impact Weather Assessment Toolkit – Nepal along with a customized fire weather index. 

“The fire outlook will enhance forest fire management efforts in Nepal. It will provide early warning on potential fire incidents across the country and allow forest management officials to take precaution and swift action,” observed Rabindra Maharjan, Deputy Director General at the DoFSC.

The fire outlook has been incorporated into Nepal’s Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System, an operational system that provides information on historical forest fires and near real-time fire detection and monitoring. SERVIR-HKH developed the system in close collaboration with Nepal’s DoFSC in 2012.

The DoFSC has been using the system to closely monitor, report, and respond to forest fires nationwide. A dedicated unit within the department consolidates actions on the ground and manages the system in-house to capture information on reported fires, estimated damage, and fatalities.

USAID Senior Climate Adaptation Advisor Pete Epanchin noted, “The fire outlook and detection tools are an excellent addition to Nepal’s carbon management resources. They pair well with SERVIR-HKH’s previous work to create a land cover monitoring system for Nepal.”

SERVIR-HKH is working with ICIMOD on scaling the approach to generate forest fire outlooks for additional countries in the region.

Learn more about the Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System in Nepal and the fire outlook module here


Read the original blog post on SERVIR Global.

Country
Nepal
Projects
SERVIR
Strategic Objective
Adaptation
Topics
Adaptation, Air Quality, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience
Region
Asia

SERVIR Global

A joint development initiative of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), SERVIR works in partnership with leading regional organizations world-wide to help developing countries use information provided by Earth observing satellites and geospatial technologies for managing climate risks and land use. We empower decision-makers with tools, products, and services to act locally on climate-sensitive issues such as disasters, agriculture, water, and ecosystems and land use.

SERVIR is improving awareness, increasing access to information, and supporting analysis to help people in West Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Hindu Kush-Himalaya, the Lower Mekong, South America and Mesoamerica manage challenges in the areas of food security, water resources, land use change, and natural disasters. With activities in more than 45 countries and counting, SERVIR has already developed over 70 custom tools, collaborated with over 250 institutions, and trained more than 3000 individuals, improving the capacity to develop local solutions.

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