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3.3 South Asia Sub-Region

The South Asia region stretches from the tropical evergreen forests of Sri Lanka and India in the South to the mountain forests up to the tree line, or alpine forests, in the Himalayas in the North. As in continental and insular Southeast Asia, a large variety of biogeographic features and climatic conditions within the region have shaped a high diversity of forest ecosystems and other wooded land with different fire regimes and vulnerabilities. Surveys on the state of wildland fires in the 1980s and 1990s have been conducted in several countries and are included in monographs and reviews for the region by Goldammer (1990, 1993), for Bhutan by Chetri (1994), for Nepal by Schmidt-Vogt (1990) and Sharma (1996). Also, there are numerous papers for India, including the IFFN publications by Bahuguna (1999), Srivastava (1999a,b, 2000) and the FAO papers (FAO 1984, Saigal 1990), and Sri Lanka by Ariyadasa (1999). Updated country reports are provided from India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. No information on forest fires in Pakistan is available.

The deciduous, seasonally dry forests of the lowlands and the coniferous (pine) forests in the higher elevations are regularly burned. As cited in the report by Bahuguna (this volume), the Forest Survey of India in a country-wide study in 1995 estimated that about 1.45 million ha of forest area is affected by fire annually in the country. According to an assessment of the Forest Protection Division of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, 3.73 million ha of forests are affected by fires annually in India. Under similar conditions of seasonal forest fire regimes in neighbouring Burma, Goldammer (1986, 1993) estimated that between 3.5 and 6.5 million ha of forests were affected annually by fire in the 1980s. Regional vegetation fire patterns in South and Southeast Asia by satellite remote sensing have been established by Malingreau et al. (1997) and confirm the high regional fire activity during the dry season.

Bangladesh: An unpublished report of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (Farid Uddin Ahmed, pers. comm.) directed to the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) in 1998 states that the incidence of forest fires in Bangladesh is considered to be insignificant. The total forested area affected by wildfire is ca. 1 500 ha per year. Damages are limited to plantations that are established in the south and southeast of the country. The teak forest of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the south experience fire which is set intentionally by the Jhumias (hill people) for cultivating the land for agriculture. Some forests of Cox‘s Bazar area (Napitkhali Range) are also affected. In this forest Dipterocapus turbinatus seedlings or regeneration are affected. Most forest fires occur in the Sitakundu Range (near Chittagong). These fires are set intentionally to stimulate the growth of Imperata cylindrica. The grass is used for thatching and therefore has a high commercial value. In the southeastern part (Sylhet) fire incidence are observed in bamboo forest. These fires are not considered a serious problem.

Bhutan: According to Chetri (1994) forest fires are considered one of the biggest threats to the forest resources. Conifer (pine), mixed conifer, broadleaf with conifer, plantations and degraded forests, which cover approximately 40 percent of the total forest area, are most susceptible to frequent forest fires. Repeated forest fires, combined with heavy grazing pressure, can completely degrade vegetation cover. In Bhutan, forest fire incidence is normally high during the dry winter months. Freezing temperatures and lack of rainfall are responsible for drying of perennial grasses, and increasing wind velocity quickens the drying process thereby making the grass covered area flammable. In the freezing winter, it becomes difficult to live without warming fires.

In addition, land preparation for agricultural, horticultural and shifting cultivation purposes is done during or at the end of the winter months. Fire is used as the cheapest tool for cleaning such land by the villagers and shifting cultivators. Therefore, uncontrolled use of fire in or adjacent to the forest occurs frequently. Often such fires escape to the forest accidentally. In some cases, fires are set wilfully by the cattle grazers to obtain a new flush of good grasses. According to an analysis of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forest Protection Cell, 100 percent of forest fire incidents are human-caused. Every year 20 to 75 (average 50) forest fires are reported. Some years like 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1989 were comparatively dry years and in most parts of the country pre-monsoon rains were delayed and very much limited. Therefore, the number of fire cases increased.

Most parts of the country in the Western and Eastern region receive no rain or very little (only up to 10 mm) during the months from November to April. In some parts of this region, total rainfall for seven months (October to April) is only 150 mm. Based on the local rainfall regimes the country has been divided into three zones of fire risk. The pine forests (Pinus roxburghii) are in the High Fire Risk Zone (<1000 mm annual rainfall) and Medium Fire Risk Zone (1000-2000 mm annual rainfall). Areas with more than 2000 mm annual rainfall fall within the low fire risk zone. The floor of the evergreen forest is covered throughout the year with green grasses, but the floor of deciduous forests is covered with dry fallen leaves and is prone to catch fire during extended droughts.


Ariyadasa, K.P. 1999. Forest and land fire prevention in Sri Lanka. Int. Forest Fire News 20: 30-33.

Bahuguna, V.K. 1999. Forest fire prevention and control strategies in India. Int.Forest Fire News 20: 5-9.

Chetri, D.B. 1994. Seasonality of forest fires in Bhutan. Int. Forest Fire News 10: 5-9.

FAO. 1984. Modern forest fire control, India. Proj. Doc. IND/84/A 01/12, New Delhi, 29 p. + App.

Goldammer, J.G. 1986. Technical and Vocational Forestry and Forest Industries Training, Burma. Forest Fire Management. FAO Rome, 60 p. FO: DP/BUR/81/001, Field Document No. 5.

Goldammer, J.G. ed. 1990. Fire in the tropical biota. Ecosystem processes and global challenges. Ecological Studies 84, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg-New York, 497 pp.

Goldammer, J.G. 1993. Feuer in Waldökosystemen der Tropen und Subtropen. Basel-Boston, Birkhäuser-Verlag, 251 pp.

Malingreau, J.P., Jones, S.H., Dwyer, E. & Pinnock, S. 1997. Regional vegetation fire patterns in South and South-east Asia: A satellite-based assessment. In: Transboundary Pollution and the Sustainability of Tropical Forests: Towards Wise Forest Fire Management - The Proceedings of the AIFM International Conference (Haron Abu Hassan, Dahlan Taha, Mohd Puat Dahalan, and Amran Mahmud, eds.), 105-135. Kuala Lumpur, ASEAN Institute for Forest Management, Ampang Press, 437 pp.

Saigal, R. 1990. Técnicas modernas de control de incendios forestales: experiencia de la India. Unasylva Vol. 41, 162: 21-27.

Srivastava, R. 1999a. Controlling forest fire incidences by generating awareness. A case study from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Coimbatore, India. Int. Forest Fire News 20: 10-15.

Srivastava, R. 1999b. Forest fire and its prevention by generating environmental awareness in the rural masses. Int. Forest Fire News 21: 36-47.

Srivastava, R. 2000. Forest fire causing poor stocking of Santalum album and Terminalia Chebula in Southern India. Int. Forest Fire News 22: 36-47.

Schmidt-Vogt, D. 1990. Fire in high altitude forests of the Nepal Himalaya. In: Fire in ecosystem dynamics. Mediterranean and northern perspectives (J.G. Goldammer and M.J. Jenkins, eds.), 191-199. The Hague, SPB Academic Publishing, 199 pp.

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