Forests on fire – 23 May 2022
The forest fires that are devastating areas across the Koh-e-Sulaiman range have continued for nearly two weeks – with authorities struggling to contain them. On May 19, at least three persons burned to death and four others were injured after a fire engulfed thousands of pine trees in the Sherani district in Balochistan. In the absence of proper fire-fighting arrangements in the district, the local people could not do much to contain the fire. Now, authorities say that Iran has provided a special plane to Pakistan to put out the fires – while the army has also started fire-fighting operations. Such fires are a terrible reminder of how ill-prepared we are across Pakistan to face such blazes. Forest fires are not a new phenomenon and most of them are either caused by excessive heat or a negligent visitor who triggers a spark wittingly or unwittingly. In Pakistan, we have seen an unusually high number of forest fires lately and the response from the concerned authorities has been expectedly sluggish. This is summer at its worst, and a blaze or two here and there are expected anytime.
Recent forest fires, from Kahuta to Margalla Hills, have not only caused destruction to flora and fauna, but have also unfortunately become an attraction for TikTokers and social media enthusiasts. On May 20, TikToker Nosheen Saeed alias Dolly was granted interim bail in connection with a case registered against her for setting the forest ablaze while filming a video. Two separate TikTok videos went viral on social media in the third week of May: one showing two youngsters setting the forest ablaze on Margalla Hills and the other of Dolly performing in front of a fire in the forest. It is disappointing how the departments responsible for preservation of forest cover either remained oblivious to the blaze or just took it lightly. The excuse that the spark was ignited in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is not a valid reason for Islamabad authorities to justify their slow response.
The Murree hills are also particularly prone to such fires that consume dozens of acres within hours, if not minutes. These fires spread fast and a quick response is perhaps the only remedy – and that requires a never-alert staff with ever ready equipment and fire brigade. Lack of preparedness remains an issue in the face of most natural or human-made calamities in the country. From cloudbursts, earthquakes and fires to glacial outbursts and severe snowfalls, every controllable and uncontrollable, expected and unexpected disaster is likely to become tragic if there is almost none or negligible readiness to cope with such challenges. In most cases, the local communities are left to their own devices which are inadequate and in some cases may be counterproductive. There is also a dire need to educate people about the effects of climate change, one of which is such wildfires – as well as how deliberate fires in green areas lead to long-lasting damage for the whole country. With changing climatic conditions and extreme weather patterns, more natural calamities are around the corner. The country needs better and more prompt mechanisms to respond to such events. A natural catastrophe is the last thing the people of this country can afford in the presence of an already heated-up economic and political atmosphere.