Accident and Biological disaster : news and updates


Steps to Prevent Frequent Building Collapse in Mumbai

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Synopsis: Every Year Mumbai witnesses incidents of building collapse during monsoon. However, the steps taken are not adequate.

Introduction

In Mumbai, recently an unsafe multi-storeyed building has collapsed in a core area of the city. It resulted in the loss of the lives of at least 11 people.

The disaster is a repetition of incidents like that every year. People are inhabiting unsafe and illegal buildings, and civic authorities are failing to act in time, as usual.

  • Mumbai needs a time-bound and accountable system of ensuring the safety of its housing stock.
  • The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority identified 21 structures in Mumbai as being extremely dangerous in this year’s monsoon. It advised 700 occupants to move to temporary accommodation, while reconstruction takes place.
  • However, the people who live there are reluctant as the alternative housing is far away from their education and work locations. This is a challenge that Maharashtra will have to address.
What should be done?

Coastal Maharashtra is vulnerable to extreme monsoon weather events. Such events are increasing in frequency due to the ongoing warming of the Arabian Sea. It should be treated as a crisis that will only get worse by changes to monsoon rainfall intensity over time. Thus following steps are required: –

  • Firstly, scientists of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology have suggested that accurate monsoon forecasting would help governments prepare better to save lives and agriculture.
  • Secondly, Mumbai needs to accelerate its repair and restoration program for weak buildings and replace those that cannot be recovered.
  • Thirdly, the city urgently needs canals for huge volumes, for water to flow out. A plan to create new urban wetlands where it is possible to store the rainfall is required.
  • Fourthly, a revival of Mithi river is needed as it could offer some relief. Its planned clean-up was delayed by the COVID-19 crisis. More such water bodies are required, and it will take a mass housing program to make life safer for the thousands in shacks.
  • Fifthly, a far-sighted plan to shift people from filthy buildings to modern ones is important on health grounds as well. This process should begin with the most dangerous structures first.

Source: click here

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Lab leak theory of Coronavirus needs credible investigation

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Synopsis: The theory that Coronavirus could have been man-made from Wuhan Institute of Virology is increasing. So, adequate studies are necessary regarding the Lab leak theory of Coronavirus.

Background
  • When the Covid-19 became a pandemic, China promoted the narrative that the virus had a natural origin, and it got spread from a wet market in Wuhan. This was done to avoid any scrutiny on researches being carried out in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
  • Soon, the idea of a Lab leak theory of Coronavirus was discredited as a conspiracy theory and most experts embraced the natural spread narrative.
  • Even the findings of the WHO on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (coronavirus) dismissed the lab leak as “extremely unlikely”.
  • However, recent developments point out the possibility that coronavirus could have originated from a lab leak, either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Recently, the U.S. President made an appeal to the U.S. intelligence community “to collect and analyse information so that, a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the virus could be made.
  • Further, the publication by Nicholas Wade, titled the origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?” has laid out a strong case for a fuller investigation into this event.

Read Also :-India – China Informal Summit

Arguments in support of lab leak theory of Coronavirus
  • First, advancement in biotechnology had made it possible to genetically engineer existing pathogens to make them more lethal and difficult to treat.
  • Second, in 2019, the head of corona virus-related research at WIV lab, in an interview, talked about the research carried out involving the creation of novel, life-threatening and pandemic-creating viruses.
  • Third, though The WIV operates a Biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) facility, many times the deficient safety standards had been reported by U.S. inspectors but no remedial measures were taken.
  • Fourth, China’s reluctance to share data, covering up facts and impeding investigation raises suspicion.
  • Fifth, the findings of WHO is also being discarded on the account that the inquiry team had persons with vest interests in the WIV experimentation.
  • Sixth, there are instances when Smallpox and other viruses have escaped from secured laboratories before.

 Read Also :-NGT Action On Vishakapatnam Gas Leak 

Suggestions

To prevent future pandemics or an event of Biowarfare, the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) needs to be strengthened by resolving the following drawbacks. Such as,

    1. The convention has no systems to verify compliance with its prohibitions. So, the global countries have to come together to build such a system
    2. The convention lacks enforcement mechanisms to penalize infringement of its provisions. So, the enforcement system has to be strengthened.

Source: The Hindu

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Frequent Hospital Fires during COVID Time in India- Cause and Way forward

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Synopsis – The hospital system in India has been overwhelmed by the heavy patient load and arrangement for the pandemic. It has increased their vulnerability to fire.

Introduction
  • Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and mismanagement, the hospital system is becoming over stressed, resulting in frequent fire incidents.
  • Since last August, more than 93 people have died in 24 hospital fire incidents in India. The majority of them were Covid-19 patients.
Major reason behind frequent hospital fire in India despite fire checks and audits-
  • Electrical faults are cited as the leading cause of fires –
    • Overheated ICU’s and ACs- In most hospitals, to meet the current COVID-19 situation, medical equipment or wires are in use beyond their capacity. It is overheating the electrical wiring system, causing the fire.
    • Short circuit or overloading due to continuous running ACs in hospitals.
  • Mismanagement in hospital – Placing more ICU beds in limited space also makes it more vulnerable to fire spread.
  • Lack of cross-ventilation – Hospital ICUs (for COVID-19) are at significant fire risk because they remain sealed for the purpose of keeping them sterile.
  • Highly inflammable material in Hospitals- sanitizer spills and vapor, higher oxygen content in the air, and PPE kits made of synthetic materials all contribute to the rapid spread of fire.
What to do to reduce fire accidents in hospitals?
  • All states need to carry out proper fire and electrical audits of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals in order to reduce the frequent cases.
  • As the health sector expands to accommodate pandemic arrangements, it is essential that all new facilities and plans meet safety standards such as-
    • Cross-ventilation in ICUs – There is a requirement of proper ventilation passage in ICUs to allow fumes an outlet.
    • Keeping electrical equipment for ACs away from oxygen-saturated areas will reduce the risk.
    • Fire safety drills- Hospitals should mandatorily hold regular fire safety and evacuation drills.
    • Hospitals must install sprinklers, which start dispensing water [35 liters per minute] as the temperature increases above 78 °C.
    • There must be installation of fire extinguishers in temporary hospitals. A fire truck must also get stationed outside hospitals in the event of a major disaster.

Source- The Indian Express

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Guidelines of National Building Code to Ensure Fire Safety in Public buildings

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Synopsis:  Effective regulations to manage fire risks in public buildings like Guidelines of National Building Code are available. However, lack of enforcement by states has led to fire disasters in India.

 Background:
  • Fire accident in Public building has been a recurrent event in India. For instance,
    • Fire accidents in hospitals at Bharuch in Gujarat, Virar (Mumbai), and Mumbra near Thane, have killed at least 37 people.
  • According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 330 people have died in commercial building fires in 2019.
  • When we include fire accidents in residential or dwelling buildings, the fatality rate gets very high at 6,329.
  • Some common causes are:
    1. Electrical failures
    2. failure of the state to ensure adherence to safety laws
    3. Lack of modern tech to ensure safety in public buildings.
What are the legal provisions available to ensure fire safety compliance in public buildings?
  • First, the National Building Code of India deals with Fire and life safety. The Bureau of Indian Standards has published it, as a recommendatory document. However, the Home Ministry asked States to incorporate it into their local building bylaws. It makes the recommendations a “mandatory requirement”.
  • Guidelines under NBC
    1. One, it provides specifications and guidelines for design and materials that reduce the threat of destructive fires. For example,
      • It specifies fire resistance materials to be used in exterior walls, interior bearing walls, floor, roof, fire check doors, fire enclosure exits, etc.,
    2. Two, The Code, classifies all the existing and new buildings by nature of use. For example; residential, educational, institutional, assembly (like cinemas and auditorial), Industrial, etc.,
    3. It recommends the location of buildings by type of use in specific zones. This is to ensure that industrial and hazardous structures do not coexist with residential, institutional, office, and business buildings.
    4. Three, the code prescribes incorporation of the technologies into buildings to alert in case of a fire and also to fight. Examples are, automatic fire detection and alarm system, automatic sprinklers and water sprays, fireman’s lift, fire barriers, etc.,
    5. Four, It provides exemptions for various buildings in case of practical difficulty. A local head, fire services may consider exemptions from the Code.
    6. Despite, the existence of fire safety rules in every state, the provisions of the Code are ignored in practice.
  • Second, Fire Safety Committees were constituted. They conduct periodical audits on fire installation, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, and other electrical equipment in the Union government’s hospitals.
  • Third, Health Ministry has also imposed a third-party accreditation for fire safety. It has also formed strict guidelines for a mandatory fire response plan in every hospital.
  • Fourth, The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has also provided mandatory requirements for fire safety in public buildings, including hospitals.
    • Such as, maintaining minimum open safety space, protected exit mechanisms, dedicated staircases, and crucial drills to carry out evacuations.
  • Fifth, the Supreme Court has directed all States to carry out fire safety audits of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals.
Has there been adequate implementation of National Building Code by the estates?
Evidence shows that States lack the manpower to inspect and ensure compliance with safety codes, including NBC. For instance,
    • According to Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report (2010 to 2015), in Maharashtra, a joint physical inspection by an audit of 53 government buildings revealed that only fire extinguishers were installed in 11 of 53 buildings, and the remaining 42 buildings were not equipped with any of the fire-fighting installations.
  • Further, Tamil Nadu and Kerala though have broader regulations, still there has been no reference for compliance with the National Building code.
Way forward

Making heavy fire liability insurance compulsory for all public buildings, will ensure protection to occupants and visitors and bring about external inspection of safety.

Source: The Hindu

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The issue of Urban Fires in India – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Urban fire has the potential to rapidly spread to adjoining structures. These fires not only take life but also damage and destroy properties such as homes, schools, commercial buildings, etc.

The issue of urban fires came in the news after a fire caused the death of 15 Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) of Vijay Vallabh Hospital in Virar, 50 km from Mumbai. This raises a question on the efficacy of fire safety norms that fail to prevent such tragic incidents.

Current Scenario of urban fires
  • It was suspected that the fire at the Virar Hospital Fire begun from the compressor unit of the AC. It took the lives of 15 patients.
  • The CM has announced a grant of 5 lakh to the family members of the deceased and 1 lakh for injured persons.
  • The current tragedy comes within a month of the Bhandup Hospital Fire in Mumbai that led to the death of nine COVID-19 patients.
Data on Urban Fire incidents
  • India has witnessed many tragic fire incidents. Eg – Uphar cinema, New Delhi (1997); Kamala Mills, Mumbai (2017) and Taxila Coaching Centre, Surat (2019).
  • According to National Crime Records Bureau figures, 17,700 Indians died due to fire accidents in 2015. 
  • Maharashtra and Gujarat, our two most highly urbanised states, account for about 30% of the country’s fire accident deaths.
  • The India Risk Surveys 2018 has placed India at 3rd position in fire incidents. This signifies the grave risks of fire incidents to urban habitats.
Causes for urban fire accidents
  • Faulty Electrics: These are the biggest cause of workplace fires. Loose wires, overloaded plugs, old equipment etc. can all result in a fire accident.
  • Flammable and Combustible Materials: Urban premises that hold any number of materials that are flammable or combustible represent a dangerous hazard.
  • Human Error: When staff are not trained properly, they are at risk of making catastrophic mistakes. Accidents such as placing liquid near electrical equipment, burning food in the kitchen or spilling flammable liquids have occurred due to human error.
  • Lack of awareness among people: In many accidents, it was observed that firefighting equipment was installed. But there is no knowledge training for the persons to handle the equipment.
Fire Safety Management in India
  • Fire service is a state subject and also has been included as a municipal function in the XII schedule of the Constitution. 
  • Many states have established Fire & Emergency Services through a statutory Act. These acts were based on the Model Fire Service Bill circulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
    • Similarly, in some states, municipal corporations and local bodies are responsible for providing fire services.
  • Currently, the National Building Code -2016 is the basis for fire safety norms in India.
  • Apart from that, India is also taking certain proactive institutional mechanisms to address fire risk. This includes,
    • At the Central level, the Director-General of Civil Defense, Home Guards, & Fire Services under the Ministry of Home Affairs is assisted by the Fire Adviser. He will deliberate upon the management of fire services. 
    • In addition, the Standing Fire Advisory Committee provides inputs for improving fire management in the country. 
    • The National Fire Service College, Nagpur provides training and education.
Issues in Urban Fire Safety Management
  • Lack of robust fire mitigation technologies: Most of the modern Buildings in major cities lack sufficient in-built fire safety services such as smoke alarms and sprinkler systems. These systems operate as early warning systems and fire control measures.
  • Poor adoption of Model Fire Safety Bill: The centre has introduced a model bill in 2019 for Maintenance of Fire and Emergency Services of a state. This focused on prevention, mitigation and response of Fire incidents, but many states have failed to adopt its provisions, resulting in greater fire incidents.
  • Lack of compliance: Many buildings in heavily congested areas of India do not adhere to the National Building Code and do not have fire clearance certificates.
    • For instance, the Surat Coaching centre building didn’t have any emergency exit. This forced the students and the instructors to jump off the building to escape the fire. However, in the process, they lost their limbs and life as well.
  • Rapid Urbanisation: This has increased the proliferation of high rise buildings due to scarcity of land. However, ensuring fire safety in them is a complex affair due to lengthy exit routes and more fire-prone areas.
  • Development creating greater risks: The sectoral advancement in the country has enhanced urban fire safety concerns – 
    • In the industrial areas, wear and tear of machinery, storage and new materials etc. add new urban fire risks every day. 
  • Problems associated with Fire Services: There are certain inherent concerns with the fire services. Such as limited financial resources, working in high-crime areas. Further, they are poor in leveraging relationships with citywide institutions, reaching out to residents to focus on fire safety. 
    • Further, there is an inadequate number of fire stations and high traffic congestion thereby leading to greater response time.
Suggestions to control urban fire
  • Enactment of a Fire Act in every state: The states which have not enacted their own Fire Act should immediately enact a suitable Fire Act based on the 2019 model bill.
  • Following Fire Safety Standards: The Home Ministry must make sure that National Disaster Management Guidelines on Scaling, Type of Equipment and Training of Fire Services. The States has to duly follow them.
  • Regular Auditing: There should be time-bound fire and electric audits of all hospitals within the municipal area. Moreover, the government has to conduct third-party fire safety audits throughout the urban areas.
  • Mock Drills: The fire services have to conduct regular fire safety drills so that people are aware of what to do in the event of such a tragedy.
  • Awareness Generation: A significant emphasis needs to be placed on creating awareness among different stakeholders like citizens, administrators, politicians, builders, engineers etc.
  • Infrastructure and Technology: Simple interventions like constructing water storage tanks at suitable locations can provide water during fire emergencies. In addition, adopting modern technology such as water mist and drones is the need of the hour.
  • Financial support to the fire safety department: The government should provide financial support and assistance in augmenting and modernising the fire departments
    • For urban areas, the government can impose a fire tax/levy. The government can earmark the revenue generated for the improvement and upkeep of the fire services.
    • Similarly, fire management has to incorporate innovative funding through public-private partnerships.
Conclusion

Through conscious planning, the government has to strengthen and upgrade the Fire services in India. To achieve this facet, a robust institutional mechanism and coordinated approach including all concerned stakeholders is desired.

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Forest fires and their impacts – Explained, Pointwise

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,

Introduction

Forest Fires is a natural phenomenon. Controlled natural fires are beneficial for the growth of the forest. Most forest fires in India take place during the dry season, between the April-May months. However, in recent years the forest fires have become more frequent than usual. The recent forest fire in Uttarakhand is one such unusual fire. Uttarakhand alone witnessed more than 1000 forest fire incidents in the past six months.

After the repeated fires in Uttarakhand, the state reached out to the Centre for aid. The state demanded helicopters and personnel from the National Disaster Response Force(NDRF) to tackle the wildfires.

About the recent forest fires in Uttarakhand

According to the Uttarakhand Forest Department data, since October 1, 2020, alone 1,028 incidents of wildfires have occurred. Further, it has also affected more than 1,359 hectares of forest land. The forest areas of districts of Nainital, Almora, Tehri Garhwal, and Pauri Garhwal have all seen the fires so far.

In general, the peak in wildfires occurs in the months of May and June in Uttarakhand. But this year so far 983 forest fires incidents occurred.  The major reasons for fire are,

  1. Less rain in the winter months.
  2. Pandemic induced lockdown left a lot of combustible material, mostly pine needles on forest floors.

With the “peak time” for wildfires is yet to come the forests in Uttarakhand is more vulnerable to forest fires.

About the forest fires in India
Forest Fires in India (Source: ISFR-2019)

According to the India State Forest Report 2019, 21.67% of India’s geographical area is forest. Of that, Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura have been identified as ‘extremely fire-prone.

Since the start of 2021, prolonged fires are also recorded in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh (Kullu Valley) and Nagaland-Manipur border (Dzukou Valley). Further, in a recent month, wildfires also occurred in Simlipal National Park in Odisha, Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and in sanctuaries for the Asiatic lion and the great Indian bustard in Gujarat.

Causes of Forest Fires in India

Both Anthropogenic and Natural factors cause fires. These include the following,

Anthropogenic causes (90% of all wildfires)Natural Causes
Smoking: Smoking is the leading cause of forest fires globally. Throwing away the cigarette butts without completely extinguishing them can lead to wildfires. Smokers at times become negligent at extinguishing cigarette butts after smoking.Lightning: A lightning strike can produce a spark. Sometimes the lightning can strike power cables, trees, or rocks and any other thing and this can trigger a fire.
Campfires: During camping or outdoor activities people normally leave lit fires or combusting materials unattended. That will ignite wildfires.Volcanic eruption: Hot magma in the earth’s crust is usually expelled out as lava during a volcanic eruption. The hot lava then flows into nearby fields or lands to start wildfires.
Burning Debris: Wastes and trash are on several occasions burned to ashes as a way of reducing the accumulation of rubbish.  For example, the recent Simlipal Forest fire is due to this only.Heat patterns: Increased temperatures due to global warming are making the forests more vulnerable. Rising atmospheric temperatures and dryness (low humidity) make favourable circumstances for a fire to start.
Fireworks: Fireworks are used by humans for various reasons such as festivals. However, their explosive nature can start wildfires.Climate Change: Massive fires in the Amazon forests in Brazil and in Australia are primarily due to Climate Change. The fires due to climate change have certain characteristics in common. It is also applicable to India. They are,

    • Longer duration of fires
    • High-intensity fires
    • Fires of high-frequency
Slash and Burn Cultivation: This is one of the major reason for the fire in India’s Northeastern region.In India the march and April month see more wildfires. It is due to the availability of large quantities of dry wood, logs, stumps, dead leaves, dry grass and weeds in forest lands.
 Lack of soil moisture: The dryness in the soil triggers fire in forests.  For example, the recent Uttarakhand wildfires are due to this.
Why peak forest fires occur during the spring?

The Spring season in India occurs between March and April.  In India, the occurrence of wildfires will be at peak during spring season. The reasons are,

  1. Less rain during the winter months. This will reduce the soil moisture in forests. So, the forest soil does not have the capacity to control the fire on its own. For example, the recent Uttarakhand forest fires are due to this.
  2. During these months, the availability of large quantities of combustible material in the forest is high. This includes materials like dry wood, logs, stumps, dead leaves, dry grass and weeds. This can make the small fire to become big.
  3. In these months, the availability of Wind will aid the wildfire to grow big and makes them hard to control.

The onset of the Monsoon in India will significantly reduce forest fires.

Impact of forest fires
  1. Loss of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Forest fires destroy the habitats and the intricate relationships of diverse flora and fauna leading to loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. Besides, wildfires can even lead to extinction for certain animals.
  2. Forest Degradation: Forest fires especially the ones that happen in dry tropical forests are a major cause of forest degradation. Almost every year, forest fires are witnessed across different forest regions. This persistently reduces the quality of certain forest features like soil fertility, biodiversity, and ecosystems.
  3. According to the 2011 census, 1.70 lakh villages in India have proximity to forests. The livelihood of several crores of people is dependent on fuelwood, bamboo, fodder, and small timber. Forest fires directly impact their livelihood.
  4. Air Pollution: A healthy forest stores and sequesters more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem. But Forest fires reduce carbon sequestration. In addition, the huge clouds of smoke instigated by wildfires lead to massive air pollution.
  5. Soil Degradation: Forest soils are loaded with nutrients. These fires kill beneficial soil microorganisms that are responsible for breaking down the soil and promoting soil microbial activities. Further, the wildfires also make soils vulnerable to soil erosion.
  6. Destruction of Watersheds: Trees and vegetation cover acts as watershed protectors since approximately all the water comes from forest-derived water tables. Whenever they burn, the natural protection systems for water tables, streams, and rivers may be affected.
  7. Triggers Global Warming cycle: When plant life is exterminated by fires, the quality of the air we breathe in declines and greenhouse gasses increase in the atmosphere leading to climate change and global warming. This is reflected in the following diagram.

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Government Initiatives to prevent Forest Fires in India:
  1. Since 2004, the Forest Survey of India(FSI) developed a Forest Fire Alert System(FFAS). The system will monitor wildfires in real-time. So far, the government released three versions of FFAS.
  2. Using the MODIS sensors(Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) Real-time information of fire hotspots is collected and sent to the Forest Survey of India. The FSI will forward the data by email to state, district, circle, division, range and beat levels. People in the locality will also receive SMS alerts.
  3. The government also prepared the National Master Plan for Forest Fire Control. Under this, the government aims to introduce a coordinated and integrated fire-management programme. The other provisions of the plan include,
    • Fast-tracking the initial response.
    • Introduction of forest fuel modification system
    • Prevention of human-caused fires through education and environmental modification
    • Developing a National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) and Fire Forecasting System for faster detection and control of fire.
Suggestion to reduce wildfires
  1. Capacity development of forest departments’ officials at different levels (national,
    regional, local) to reduce the vulnerability of Indian forests fire.
  2. Creating forests fire control manuals for field staff. Thus suggesting steps to early detection, reporting and controlling the fires.
  3. Policy at the national level: A cohesive policy or action plan should be formulated to set forth the guiding principles and framework for wildfire Management. The policy should also incorporate the dimension of climate change.
  4. Using indigenous knowledge and techniques of local and tribal people in comprehensive wildfire management.
  5. Improving the Staffing and capacity of firefighters in the country. For example, construction of watchtowers and crew stations, hiring seasonal fire watchers to spot fires, etc.
  6. Technology: Modern firefighting techniques such as the radio-acoustic sound system for early fire detection and Doppler radar should be adopted.

Overall, forest fires are necessary to clean up the dead and decaying matter in the forest. Further, they can help forests to regenerate. But all this will happen only if the fires occur at the optimum level. To prevent and manage forest fires, not only the government have to take adequate steps, but also the people have to be responsible.

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Forest Fires in India – An analysis.

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Synopsis: Forest fires in India occurring more frequently. But India is facing challenges in controlling them.

Introduction:

Most forest fires in India appeared between the April-May months. In recent years the forest fires have been more frequent than usual. For example, in few areas, forest fires occurred in the winter months also.

Uttarakhand alone witnessed more than 1000 forest fire incidents in the past six months. Since the start of 2021, forest fires have been seen in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland-Manipur border, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat.

Prime hotspots of Forest Fires in India:
Forest Fires in India (Source: ISFR-2019)

According to the India State Forest Report 2019, 21.67% of India’s geographical area is forest. Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura have been identified as ‘extremely prone to the forest fires.

States with large forest areas under the ‘very highly prone’ category include Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, etc.

Since the start of this year, prolonged fires are recorded in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh (Kullu Valley) and Nagaland-Manipur border (Dzukou Valley). Further in recent months forest fires also occurred in Simlipal National Park in Odisha, Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and in sanctuaries for the Asiatic lion and the great Indian bustard in Gujarat.

The present forest fire in Nainital started in March end.

Reason for Forest Fires in India:

Forest fires occur in India both due to Natural and Man-made causes.

Natural causes for Forest Fires in India:

  1. Massive fires in the Amazon forests in Brazil and in Australia are primarily due to Climate Change. The fires due to climate change have certain characteristics in common. It is also applicable to India. They are,
    • Longer duration of fires
    • High-intensity fires
    • Fires of high-frequency
  2. In India the march and April month see more forest fires. This is due to the availability of large quantities of dry wood, logs, stumps, dead leaves, dry grass and weeds in forest lands.
  3. Lack of soil moisture is also seen as a key factor. For example, the recent Uttarakhand forest fires are due to this.
Man-Made causes for Forest Fires in India:

But many major fires in India are triggered mainly by human activities.

  1. Manmade fires are high particularly in places where people visit forests. People leave burning bidis, cigarette stubs or other inflammable materials inside the forest.
  2. In some places, people deliberately cause a fire. For example, the recent fire in Simlipal National Park in Odisha is due to deliberation. Villagers set dry leaves to fire in order to collect mahua flowers. (The local people use these flowers in preparation for a local drink).

Control of Forest Fires in India:

Forest fires are difficult to control due to the following reasons.

  1.  The locality of the forest and access to the specific location is hard for firefighters.
  2. Shortage of Firefighters: This creates challenges in the timely mobilisation of forest staff,  fuel and fire fighting equipment, etc.
  3.  Impossible to transport heavy vehicles loaded with water into the thick forests. So, in extreme places helicopters are used.
  4. Wind speed and direction can also play a crucial role in fire fighting.

Importance of preventing Forest Fires in India:

  1. A healthy forest stores and sequesters more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem.
  2. According to the 2011 census, 1.70 lakh villages in India have proximity to forests. The livelihood of several crores of people is dependent on fuelwood, bamboo, fodder, and small timber.
  3. Forest fires can have multiple adverse effects on the forest. For example, forest cover, soil, tree growth, vegetation, and the overall flora and fauna all get impact due to forest fires.
    • The heat generated during the fire destroys animal habitats.
    • Soil quality decreases with the alteration in their compositions.
    • The trees that survive fire often remain stunted and their growth gets severely affected.
    • Soil moisture and fertility gets affected. Thus forests can shrink in size in the future.

Government Initiatives to prevent Forest Fires in India:

  1. Since 2004, the Forest Survey of India(FSI) developed a Fire Alert System. The system will monitor forest fires in real-time. In 2019, an advanced version of the system was also launched.
  2. Using the MODIS sensors(Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) Real-time fire information of fire hotspots is collected and sent to FSI. This is then forwarded by email to state, district, circle, division, range and beat levels. People in the locality will also receive SMS alerts.

Source: The Indian Express

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Recurring Fire accidents in India – Suggestions

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Synopsis: Recurrent fire accidents in India show the apathy of the government towards public safety.

Background
  • Recently, the fire accident in Mumbai hospital (located inside Mumbai’s Dreams Mall) resulted in the death of 10 people so far.
  • An effective fire safety protocols could have prevented the devastating effect on lives and property.
  • The tragedy points towards the failure of the government to make fire safety a systemic compulsory in public buildings.
  • It has to be noted that, after a fire in Rajkot last November, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the incident. It issued directions, to task an officer with fire safety for each COVID-19 hospital.
What needs to be done?
  1. Firstly, strict measures need to be taken to implement The National Disaster Management Guidelines of 2016 in Public buildings. For example, the requirement of open space to move patients in an emergency should be strictly implemented.
  2. Secondly, the need for periodical assessment of public buildings on safety protocols. For example, the quality of infrastructure, specifically electrical installations, ensuring the retrofitting of structures with flame retardant materials, etc.,
  3. Thirdly, States must create scientifically designed public health facilities that meet the needs of populous cities.

Source: The Hindu

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Need for Fire Safety training and technologies

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Synopsis- Despite large fires in the past, building and fire safety standards continues to be ignored.

Introduction-

The current fire protection measures in all major cities do not account for all contemporary fire hazard issues. It makes fire safety a growing concern.

  • The Fire accident at Eastern Railway Headquarter in Kolkata is a prime example of poor attention to fire safety fundamentals, lack of preparedness plan, and the absence of robust fire mitigation technologies.
  • This accident also provides an opportunity to assess the status of the Model Bill of 2019. It Provides for the Maintenance of Fire and Emergency Services of a state.

Modern technology and preparedness are both important for safety against fire hazards, but both are undervalued in India.

What are the concerns related to fire safety in India?

  • Lack of robust fire mitigation technologies.
  • Most of the modern Buildings in major cities lack sufficient in-built fire safety services such as smoke alarms and sprinkler systems. These systems operate as early warning systems and fire control measures.
What should be done to reduce fire accidents? 
  1. Proper use of fire safety norms prescribed under the National Building Code.
  2. Fire Safety Audits [FSA] should be made mandatory in India. Moreover, the auditing work should be delegated to third-party agencies with experience in the field.
  3. Regular fire safety drills should be conducted so that people are aware of what to do in the event of such tragedy.
  4. Enhancement of public awareness and proper use of technology and resources for the mitigation of fire hazards is needed.
  5. Technology and resource advancement is needed.

Source- The Hindu

Posted in 9 PM Daily Articles, PUBLICTagged

Link between Dam and Natural disasters – Explained Pointwise

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Rishiganga dam in Uttarakhand was recently destroyed by the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood and intensified the GLOF in the region. This is not the first time a Dam is aiding and intensifying the disaster in India. It can be a potential hazard to both human life and the environment. This raises a larger question on the net benefit of big dams.

What is Dam?

It is a structure built across a stream or river to hold back water. There are many reasons to build a dam. Such as,

  1. Generation of hydropower
  2. Reducing the run-off water from a river to sea
  3. Fulfill the drinking, irrigation, and industrial needs of water
  4. Reduce floods in the area
  5. Provide inland navigation, etc.

How dams are aiding disasters?

Dams were built to provide benefits to human. But many times instead of providing benefits, dams are harming the region by aiding a disaster. The reasons are:

  1. Dams as a hydropower plant: Construction of hydro-power plant requires diversion of rivers through tunnels to generate power. The construction of these tunnels unsettles the mountainous terrain by displacing the supportive sediment. It results in the slipping down of rocks due to the removal of their support system (Landslides).
  2. Dams as a reason for frequent floods: Due to poor maintenance, siltation, etc. dams are not able to hold adequate water. This is responsible for the increasing frequency of floods in India.
  3. Dam as a solution to prevent/divert large run-off water: To protect the river run-off, many bigger dams have been constructed in highly vulnerable locations, like the Himalayas. For example, the entire state of Uttarakhand is vulnerable to earthquakes, but there are large dams planned in the fragile region that disturb the ecosystem. Dams in these locations aggravate the natural disaster.
  4. Dams as a reason for an earthquake: When a large quantity of water is loaded and unloaded frequently in the region, it might lead to reservoir induced seismicity. For example, Koyna earthquake of December 1967.

All these reasons lead to dam failure. This is then followed by a large-scale release of water, downstream of the river and creating floods. This will create economical, infrastructural, environmental, and livelihood losses.

Dams aided disasters in the past:

  1. The worst dam disaster in India was the Machu dam failure (Gujarat) in 1979. The torrential rainfall in the area created a large scale flood and a failure in the dam. According to the official estimates, around 2000 people had lost their lives.
  2. In August 2018 Kerala witnessed its worst floods since 1924 due to the torrential rainfall. Too much water stored in the dam aggravated the disaster. At least 35 of 50 large dams had been opened for releasing water in to the already flooded areas.  The flood took the lives of around 503 people in the state.
  3. Similarly, in 2019 heavy rain caused a breach in Tiware dam (Maharastra). This led to the flooding of seven villages and 20 people swept away.
  4. Most recently, a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood destroyed the Rishiganga dam. This led to a large surge of water downstream which breached the Tapovan Hydropower Plant.

Vulnerability of Indian dams:

  1. India has more old dams. India in total has 5,745 reservoirs in the country, of which, 293 are more than 100 years old. The age of 25% of  the dams is between 50 and 100 years and the remaining 80% are over 25 years old. Ageing dams face the following issues,
    1. Differential settlement of foundation in the dam, 
    2. Clogging of filters, increase of uplift pressures, 
    3. Cracks in the dam core, 
    4. Loss of bond between the concrete structure and embankment, 
    5. Reduction in slope stability in earthen and rockfill dams, 
    6. Erosion of earthen slopes, 
    7. Deformation of the dam body itself.
      All these aids the intensification of any disaster.
  2. Many dams have structural deficiencies and shortcomings in operation and monitoring facilities. Few dams not even meet the present safety standards on structural and hydrological conditions.
  3. Many states are not providing sufficient budgets for the maintenance and repair of the dam. There is also a lack of institutional and technical capacities for addressing dam safety issues. For example, According to Central Water Commission data, “Not even a single dam in Kerala was inspected before monsoon during Kerala floods”.
  4. The current legal framework does not have any provision for penalizing the person/trust/state responsible for dam failure.
  5. Real-time inflow forecasting systems are not in place even in important reservoirs. This creates vulnerability to dam safety and dam operation.

Government Initiatives to improve dam safety:

  1. Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP)
    • It is a World Bank assisted project. The project aims to improve the safety and operational performance of selected existing dams and associated appurtenances sustainably.
    • Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation through the Central Water Commission, is implementing the project.
  2. Dam Safety Bill, 2019.
    • The Bill provides for proper surveillance, operation, inspection, and maintenance of all specified dams in the country.
    • The Bill aims to constitute the National Committee on Dam Safety. The committee shall suggest dam safety policies and also recommend any necessary regulations.
    • The Bill also establishes the National Dam Safety Authority. The NDSA is a regulatory body that discharges functions to implement the policy, guidelines, and standards in the country.
    • The Bill also provides for the constitution of a State-level Committee on Dam Safety by State Governments.
  3. Dam Health And Rehabilitation Monitoring Application (DHARMA)
    • It is a web-based software package. It supports the effective collection and management of Dam Safety data in all large dams of India.
    • The major aim of DHARMA is to digitize all dam related data.
  4. Seismic Hazard Assessment Information System (SHAISYS) for mapping Seismic Hazards.
    • It is an application tool (currently under development) of CWC (Central Water Commission). The tool will estimate the seismic hazard of the Indian region at any given time. This will aid in dam water management.

Suggestions to make dams disaster-resilient:

  1. State governments should strictly follow the dam safety manual.
  2. Creation of the buffer zone: States have to ensure that there is no encroachment in the nearby area.
  3. Need to integrate urban-rural planning with dam safety. Since India is a populous country, it is impossible to shift people during calamities. Proper dissemination of information on a real-time basis and regular flushing of water has to be carried out downstream to keep the river beds dry. This can be done only through an integrated approach.
  4. A Standing Committee recommended a penal provision for dam failures on authorities. The government has to incorporate this into law. Along with that, the government has to increase the capacity building of locals and associated institutions.
  5. The government has to create a well-planned monitoring system using modern instruments. This is the key to the early detection of defects and averts disasters.

The government must consider the issue holistically and avoid building large dams for political gains in fragile regions. The construction of a dam is not a disaster, but the mismanagement and poor planning of the dam is a disaster which affects all of us in a severe manner. It is a high time for the government to understand this.

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