Creating awareness about forest fires

11 May 2010

With the prevailing drought conditions in the country, some areas in the Rathnapura District are at risk of forest fires. The Imbulpe, Balangoda, Pelmadulla, Nivithigala and Eheliyagoda District Secretariat Divisions have been identified as the high risk areas within the district. Several forest fires have been reported in these areas between January and March 2010. With the continuation of this climate, more areas in the district are expected to join this list.

Forest fires can be caused by various factors. Officials in the areas have listed the negligence of the villagers and tourists in the area as the major reason behind the fires. Carelessness in lighting fires or throwing away used cigarettes can have disastrous consequences in areas like this. Hunters and Chena farmers in the area have also contributed to this situation by being careless in their work.

Forest fires have caused considerable damage to the natural vegetation, community livelihoods and infrastructural developments in the district. These fires have destroyed more than 700 hectares of natural forest cover on the bottom slopes of the Horton Plains.  The fires also affect the incomes of the rubber estate workers in the areas, since their work remains at a standstill until the fires are controlled. The fires have also damaged access routes, buildings and other infrastructural facilities in the area.

Considering the direct and indirect damage caused by these fires the District Disaster Management Coordinating Unit (DDMCU) has identified forest fire as a "localized hazard" and decided to implement programmes to reduce the risk of such fires.  A number of programmes initiated at a community level have helped reduce the risk of forest fire in the district. The programmes aimed at disseminating information regarding fire precautionary measures to communities, and particularly school children in fire prone areas.

The extensive awareness programmes, supported by the UNDP Disaster Risk Management Programme, consisted of public awareness meetings, distribution of leaflets, door - to door visits, awareness campaigns, and emergency operations for fire fighting. These activities were conducted with the support of army officers, police officers, forest officers, wildlife conservation officers, university students and Pradeshiya Sabha officials. This collective effort was well received by the residents of the area who participated actively in the programme. The success of the programme can be deduced by the drastic reduction in forest fire occurrences in the area.