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Global Wildfire Crisis: Indigenous Wisdom is Crucial

Indigenous people are some of the world's most important stewards: they account for only 5% of the global population but protect 85% of the planet's biodiversity. Indigenous peoples and their firekeepers have long used traditional burning techniques to protect their homes and wild food sources.

Shivam Dwivedi
Forest Fire
Forest Fire

Hundreds of renowned scientists from around the world have warned of a "global wildfire crisis" in the coming decades, as a warming climate increases the risk of increasingly destructive fires. "The warming of the earth is turning landscapes into tinderboxes, while more extreme weather means stronger, hotter, drier winds to fan the flames," over 50 experts from six continents warned in a landmark emergency response report released this week by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Other researchers have observed an increase in burned areas in eastern Australia, Southeast Asia, and the American West. According to the analysis, by the end of the century, all of them are expected to suffer an increase in intense fire incidents. In the Siberian Arctic, experts are concerned that the burning of peatlands, which store massive amounts of carbon underground, could release a "carbon bomb" that will disrupt the planet's climate system.

An Indigenous Approach:

Indigenous peoples are some of the world's most important stewards: they account for only 5% of the global population but protect 85% of the planet's biodiversity. Indigenous peoples and their firekeepers have long used traditional burning techniques to protect their homes and wild food sources.

According to the United Nations report, Canada's wildfire management experts were the first in the world to recognize the need of collaborating with Indigenous peoples as part of a decade-long roadmap for wildland fire science.

Low- to moderate-intensity ‘good fire’ may reduce fuel for larger fires and help germination of plants that require fire to crack open their seeds. Instead of viewing fires as extraordinary events that result in disasters, we must learn to live with them.

Indian Scenario:

In India, forest fires are caused by humans in over 95% of cases, either intentionally or unintentionally. The remaining fires are triggered by natural causes such as lightning, extreme temperature changes, and so on, which are extremely infrequent.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, for example, have tried an intervention that makes the Himalayan foothills' alpine trees less susceptible to forest fires while also providing local livelihoods. Based on the findings of these investigations, communities in Himachal Pradesh have established enterprises that collect and treat highly flammable dried chir pine needles into bio-pellets that can be used in industrial operations alongside or instead of coal.

To control forest fires, India would need to strengthen its multisectoral coordination across ministries at the central & state levels to ensure that the forest department and local governments can deliver required interventions. Technical disaster-prevention knowledge, in my opinion, should be made available in much easier and local languages as well, so that people on the ground can obtain information that can aid them in disaster response and long-term resilience.

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