By Gift Briton
Recently, there has been growing intensity and frequency of wildfires fueled by climate and land use change wreaking havoc on the environment, wildlife, human health and infrastructure across the globe, a new report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal reveals.
The report calls for immediate radical changes in governments spending on wildfires by shifting their investments from reaction and response to prevention and preparedness, adding that governments should adopt a new ‘Fire Ready Formula’ with two-thirds of spending devoted to planning, prevention, preparedness and recovery and one third left for response.
Furthermore, the report projects that there will be a global increase in wildfires by 14 per cent by 2030, 30 per cent by the end of 2050 and 50 per cent by the end of the century.
“Current government responses to wildfires are often putting money in the wrong place. Those emergency service workers and firefighters on the frontlines who are risking their lives to fight forest wildfires need to be supported”, said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director in a statement.
“We have to minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared, invest more in fire risk reduction, work with local communities, and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change”.
Uncontrollable and extreme wildfires can be very devastating to people, biodiversity and ecosystems and can act as barriers towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and deepen social inequalities, the report reveals.
Additionally, people’s health is directly affected by inhaling wildfire smoke, causing respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and increased health effects for the most vulnerable and the economic costs of rebuilding after areas are struck by wildfires can be beyond the means of low-income countries.
According to the report, wildfires are worsened by climate change through increased drought, high air temperatures, low relative humidity, lightning, and strong winds leading to hotter, drier, and longer fire seasons.
The effects of wildfires to the wildlife and its natural habitats is ravaging which could lead to possible extinction of some animals and plants, like the recent Australian 2020 bushfires which are estimated to have wiped out billions of domesticated and wild animals.
The report further states that there’s a critical need to better understand the behaviours of wildfires, adding that achieving and sustaining adaptive land and fire management requires a combination of policies, a legal framework and incentives that encourage appropriate land and fire use.
Restoration of ecosystems through reintroduction of species such as beavers, peatlands restoration, building at a distance from vegetation and preserving open space buffers is an important avenue to mitigate the risk of wildfires before they occur and to build back better in their aftermath.
Finally, the report calls for call for stronger international standards for the safety and health of firefighters and for minimising the risks that they face before, during and after operations which includes raising awareness of the risks of smoke inhalation, minimising the potential for life-threatening entrapments, and providing firefighters with access to adequate hydration, nutrition, rest, and recovery between shifts.