Saramati Fire a Warning Bell
No lessons seem to have been learned from past disasters as miscreants continue to play with fire, undermining the consequences wildfire could have on human beings, animals and nature. Last week, a large portion of Mount Saramati, the highest peak in Nagaland, was reduced to ashes in a major fire suspected to have been set off by trekkers. It’s not a stray case. One major wildfire that is still fresh in the minds of the people is the 2020-21 Dzukou Valley inferno that raged the adjoining areas of the famous tourist destination for almost two weeks. The fire was doused and prevented from destroying the valley, thanks to commendable efforts by government agencies and civil society organisations. But forests, including the Dzukou Valley, continue to face the risk of being reduced to ashes as wildfire incidents keep surfacing, especially during the dry season. As per a report by the Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority (NSDMA), around 7,000 Areca nut plants, covering 10 acres, were destroyed by wildfires in 2019-20, while 19,880 coffee plants, covering 24.7 acres of land, were destroyed in the following year, 2020-21. There could be many unaccounted cases, and it won’t be surprising if people in remote areas are ignorant about the consequences of forest fires on the well-being of human beings. So, government departments, civil society organisations and village leaders should sensitise the public, especially in far-flung areas, before the dry and windy season sets in and activities related to jhum cultivation and farming increase.
Last week’s fire at Mount Saramati should serve as a warning bell for government officials and the public alike, as such incidents could increase in the next few months. Creating awareness can curb wildfire incidents to a great extent in the state, as they are mostly accidental or due to carelessness. The practice of burning plantations and clearing forest for jhum fields should be regulated to ensure that it doesn’t spark forest fires. While taking stringent action against the culprits is necessary to set a precedent, educating the general public at the grassroots, especially among young children, is the way forward. People should be sensitised about the irreparable damage wildfires can have on the ecosystem by disturbing the food chain, changing soil texture, causing air pollution and destroying animal habitat. Fire prevention and management strategies should be in place at all levels to mitigate the risks associated with such incidents. Failing to do so can result in depletion of the state’s rich biodiversity, which will eventually affect the well-being of the people in multiple ways, including existential threat. We should stop playing with fire and strive towards restoring ecosystems through sustainable forest management practices for our own good.