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Govt seeks fund to fight wildfires.

Kathmandu, May 10 -- Waking up to the fact that deadly forest fires raged in more than 400 places in 43 districts this year, the government has decided to create a basket fund to prevent and control wildfires, an official said.

An official at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) requesting anonymity said the ministry has prepared a proposal requesting the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) to provide US $ 1.5 million (approx. Rs. 118.5 million) to promote measures to control wildfires.

ITTO is an inter-governmental organisation established under the United Nations in 1986 to promote sustainable forest management and forest conservation and assists tropical member countries to adapt such policies to local circumstances and to implement them in the field through projects.

The series of devastating wildfires on an unprecedented scale in highly fire-prone pine forests at high altitudes since early this year also claimed 41 lives.

"The proposal is in the initial phase and will be ready to be submitted within a month after necessary consultations with other stakeholders," said Annapurna Nanda Das, spokesperson at the ministry.

The government will contribute additional US $ 0.5 million ( about Rs. 39.5 million) to the basket fund.

Das said the government is also planning to list forest fires as a natural disaster and give this neglected calamity a high priority.

According to the ministry's data about 4,000 hectares of land, including in conserved and community forest areas were destroyed.

"Due to lack of effective mechanisms to prevent the devastating impact of wildfires, the country has gone through a major disaster," he said.

Das said, as per the government's mechanism to control wildfires, the basket fund will be mobilized to strengthen the capacity and infrastructure to deal with the preventive measures of wildfire.

"The most important work is to create awareness among local people about preventive measures and build capacity among them to manage potential threats of wildfire," he said.

Unmanaged 'slash and burn' practice that is common among farmers to create better agricultural productivity sparks wildfires. Rise in temperatures due to an usually long dry spell was also a factor.

Likewise, there is a need to strengthen institutional mechanisms at the local, community and government levels to tackle wildfires, Das said.

The information sharing system needs to be effectively maintained to create easy access to locals and other district level officials during incidents of wildfire, Das said.

"We are in the process of a thorough damage assessment of the recent wildfires and will work to implement all appropriate mechanisms needed for controlling wildfires," he said.

Meanwhile, officials at MoFSC said that the ministry has put forth a proposal to the Ministry of Finance requesting the latter to allocate Rs. 10 million for controlling wildfires in the country.

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Publication:Kathmandu Post (Kathmandu, Nepal)
Date:May 10, 2009
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