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Wildfires in Vietnam

In the last few years, due to the influence of climate changes and irresponsible human activities, many forest areas in Vietnam have been burned down, seriously threatening the forest vegetation, the local economic development and human life.

The current situation of forests and wildfires in Vietnam

For more than 7 decades since 1945, the forest area in the whole territory of Vietnam has undergone many changes. According to a study by the Institute of Forest Inventory and Planning under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in 1945, the total forest area in the whole territory of Vietnam reached 14.3 million hectares, with a coverage rate of 43.8%. However, after the country was liberated in 1976, the forest area was only 11.6 million hectares, and the coverage rate was 33.8%.

During the 20 years of the period 1976-1995 of construction and economic recovery after the war, the conversion of forest land use purposes and the over-exploitation of forest products caused the forest area to continue to decline to the lowest level, at 9.3 million ha, and the coverage rate is only 28.2%. Due to this decrease at a worrying level, the Government declared the closure of natural forests, at the same time, asked localities to increase additional afforestation with the target by 2015 to increase forest cover to 42-43%. However, according to the annual State of National Forestry Announcement of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in 2016, the newly restored forest area of Vietnam equaled to the area of 1945 was 14.3 million hectares, but the coverage rate government only reached 41.19%. By 2018, the total forest area in Vietnam reached nearly 14.5 million hectares, with a coverage rate of 41.65%.

The data from the General Statistics Office shows that, in the period 2014-2018, each year, Vietnam planted more than 220 hectares of forest. The highest level was in 2017, due to the relatively favourable weather in the year for planting and taking care of forests, such that the concentrated planted forest area nationwide reached 241.3 thousand hectares, an increase of 1.2% compared to 2016. Despite this significant increase, the forest cover rate did not reached the target set by the Government for 2015 and was considered to be quite slow compared to the current socio-economic development needs.

According to the data from the General Statistics Office show that, in the 10 years of 2009-2018, wildfires took away nearly 22,000 hectares of Vietnam's forests, causing great economic losses to the country. The peak of this period was in 2010, when about 6,723 hectares of forest were destroyed due to prolonged drought.

According to the General Statistics Office, wildfires often occur in localities where many forests are planted with combustible trees such as pine, bamboo, eucalyptus, etc., in which, Ha Tinh, Nghe An, Ha Giang, Son La, Yen Bai, Quang Tri, Binh Dinh, Binh Thuan are the localities where wildfires often occur with great damage. The damage caused by wildfires in Son La province in 2016 alone reached 919 hectares, accounting for 27.68% of the country's total damaged forest area in the year, nearly twice the total damaged forest area in 2017.

In the past few years, although the area of forest burned has decreased sharply, the situations of wildfires are still unpredictable. In 2017, there was a sharp increase in the rainfall, hence reducing the area of forest burned to the lowest level in the past decade, with only 471.7 hectares, a decrease of more than 80 % compared to 2016 (3,320 ha). By 2018, the damage caused by wildfires had increased compared to 2017 (739.1 ha), but in general, the damage was still low compared to other years. However, in the first 10 months of 2019, the wildfire area increased to 2.7 thousand hectares, 3.6 times higher than 2018. Especially, in the peak months of the dry and hot seasons, many areas are in a state of warning of the risk of wildfires at level V (extremely dangerous level), causing the Government and ministries to regularly send out urgent dispatches about wildfire prevention.

Main reasons for wildfires in Vietnam

In terms of natural factors, Vietnam is located in the Asia-Pacific region, which is an area often affected by drought and gradually warming weather caused by the El Nino phenomenon. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Vietnam has a very large amount of solar radiation with sunshine hours from 1,400-3000 hours/year, average radiant heat up to 100 kcal/cm2. On the other hand, the average temperature in most of Vietnam's climate zones in recent years has been higher than the average of previous years. Meanwhile, for the purpose of economic development, planted forests in Vietnam are usually eucalyptus, pine, melaleuca, which often have essential oils or resins that are easy to catch fire and burn. In addition, natural fire is caused by the effects of dry branches and leaves, dried fruits, dead tree trunks, combustible materials, excessive heat withdrawal.

In terms of human factors, production activities and human social activities are considered to be the main causes of the majority of wildfires in Vietnam. Human-caused wildfires are often due to irresponsibility and carelessness. In some localities, especially in mountainous areas, where people have low education, people still keep the habit of burning upland for cultivation, even burning forests for cultivation keeping warm, for getting honey, etc.

When wildfires happen, fire fighting often faces many difficulties as most of the fires occur on high mountains or dangerous areas, which are far from water sources. In the North Central region, during hot season, the temperature can reach 40C, along with the hot dry southwest wind (Lao wind) as a catalyst, causing the ignition to spread faster with a wider range. Located in the central region with strong winds from Laos, Nghe An and Ha Tinh are the hottest localities among the hotspots of forest fire risk and occurrence in Vietnam.

Recommendations for the local governments to prevent wildfires

In order to effectively implement wildfire prevention and fighting plan during dry seasons, especially in the Central and Central Highlands regions, some solutions are strongly recommended to the local governments.

  • The local authorities, forest rangers and forest owners shall closely coordinate and actively carry out the propaganda, dissemination and education, raising people's awareness in forest fire prevention and fighting. For people living near forests and doing cultivation, they must make a commitment to notify local rangers and forest owners, and strictly comply with fire prevention and fighting.

  • Every year, forest owners must develop plans for wildfire prevention and fighting under the guidance of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Rangers need to regularly inspect and supervise the development and implementation of the plan.

  • In some areas with favourable conditions, canopy could be pre-burned with control before the dry season to reduce combustible materials in the dry season.

  • Monitor and update the weather situation regularly, especially on the wildfire warning system of the Forest Protection Department, thereby determining the wildfire forecast level to take preventive measures.

  • Forest rangers, together with forest owners and local units, should organise annual wildfire prevention and fighting, and build a specialised wildfire fighting force.

  • It is necessary to increase investment in wildfire prevention and fighting both in terms of fire prevention items and fire fighting tools, thereby improving the effectiveness of wildfire fighting.

  • During dry season, it is necessary to maintain a 24-hour standing mode for strict control to reduce the risk of wildfire or detect the fire site in time. When detecting a fire, the local authorities need to quickly mobilise forces to participate in stopping the fire and promptly handle it to prevent the fire from spreading.

  • Strengthening the remuneration regime for forces participating in fire fighting, thereby encouraging the forces to participate in fire fighting. There should be a reward system for individuals and organisations with excellent achievements in wildfire prevention and fighting, and strictly punish those who cause forest fires.

Source: the Internet



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