Current Affairs (5th April 2021)
- Uttarakhand has witnessed over 1,000 incidents of forest fire over the last six months, including 45 in the last 24 hours alone, and has reached out to the Centre for helicopters and personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). At least five persons and seven animals have been reported killed.
- Since the start of 2021, there has been a series of forest fires in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland-Manipur border, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, including in wildlife sanctuaries.
- April-May is the season when forest fires take place in various parts of the country. But forest fires have been more frequent than usual in Uttarakhand and have also taken place during winter; dry soil caused by a weak monsoon is being seen as one of the causes.
How prone to fire are India’s forests?
- As of 2019, about 67% (7,12,249 sq km) of the country’s geographical area is identified as forest, according to the India State of Forest Report 2019 (ISFR) released by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), Dehradun. Tree cover makes up another 2.89% (95, 027 sq km).
- Based on previous fire incidents and recorded events, forests of the Northeast and central India regions are the most vulnerable areas to forest fires.
- ‘Extremely prone’: Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura
- ‘Very highly prone’: Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
- ‘Extremely prone’ forest fire hotspots: Western Maharashtra, Southern Chhattisgarh and areas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, along with central Odisha
- Areas under the ‘highly prone’ and ‘moderately prone’ categories make up about 26.2% of the total forest cover — a whopping 1,72,374 sq km.
Causes of Forest fires:
- There are number of natural causes, but many major fires in India are triggered mainly by human activities.
- Recent studies link climate change to rising instances of fires globally, especially the massive fires of the Amazon forests in Brazil and in Australia in the last two years.
- Fires of longer duration, increasing intensity, higher frequency and highly inflammable nature are all being linked to climate change.
- In India, forest fires are most commonly reported during March and April, when the ground has large quantities of dry wood, logs, dead leaves, stumps, dry grass and weeds that can make forests easily go up in flames if there is a trigger.
- Under natural circumstances, extreme heat and dryness, friction created by rubbing of branches with each other also have been known to initiate fire.
- In Uttarakhand, the lack of soil moisture too is being seen as a key factor. In two consecutive monsoon seasons (2019 and 2020), rainfall has been deficient by 18% and 20% of the seasonal average, respectively.
- Most fires are man-made, sometimes even deliberately caused. Even a small spark from a cigarette butt, or a carelessly discarded lit matchstick can set the fire going.
Difficulties to control forest fires:
- The locality of the forest and access to it pose hurdles in initiating firefighting efforts.
- During peak season, shortage of staff is another challenge in dispatching firefighting teams.
- Timely mobilisation of forest staff, fuel and equipment, depending on the type of fire, through the thick forests remain challenges.
- As it is impossible to transport heavy vehicles loaded with water into the thick forests, a majority of fire dousing is initiated manually, using blowers and similar devices. But there have been incidents when forest fires were brought under control using helicopter services.
- Wind speed and direction play a critical role in bringing a forest fire under control. The fire often spreads in the direction of the winds and towards higher elevations.
Importance of forests:
- Forests play an important role in mitigation and adaptation to climate change. They act as a sink, reservoir and source of carbon.
- A healthy forest stores and sequesters more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem.
- In India, with 1.70 lakh villages in close proximity to forests (Census 2011), the livelihood of several crores of people is dependent on fuelwood, bamboo, fodder, and small timber.
What factors make forest fires a concern?
- Multiple adverse effects on the forest cover, soil, tree growth, vegetation, and the overall flora and fauna.
- Fires render several hectares of forest useless and leave behind ash, making it unfit for any vegetation growth.
- Heat generated during the fire destroys animal habitats. Soil quality decreases with the alteration in their compositions. Soil moisture and fertility, too, is affected.
- Thus forests can shrink in size. The trees that survive fire often remain stunted and growth is severely affected.
Efforts taken to protect forests from fire:
- Since 2004, the FSI developed the Forest Fire Alert System to monitor forest fires in real time.
- In its advanced version launched in January 2019, the system now uses satellite information gathered from NASA and ISRO.
SANKALP SE SIDDH
- TRIFED under Ministry of Tribal Affairs has now launched “Sankalp se Siddhi” – Village & Digital Connect Drive.
- Following the success of the Village and Digital connect initiative during which TRIFED’s regional officials across the country went to identified villages with a significant tribal population and supervised the implementation of the various programmes and initiatives earlier in 2021.
- This drive starting from April 1, 2021, this 100 day drive will entail 150 teams (10 in each region from TRIFED and State Implementation Agencies/Mentoring Agencies/Partners) visiting ten villages each.
- 100 villages in each region and 1500 villages in the country will be covered in the next 100 days.
- The main aim of this drive is to activate the Van Dhan Vikas Kendras in these villages.
- Rs 200 crore Sales during the next 12 months is targeted as a result of this initiative once the VDVKs are activated in these 1500 villages.
- The visiting teams will also identify locations and shortlist potential VDVKs for clustering as TRIFOOD, and SFURTI units as larger enterprises.
- They will also identify tribal artisans and other groups and empanel them as suppliers so that they can have access to larger markets through the Tribes India network – both physical outlets and Tribes India.com.
- It is expected that Sankalp Se Siddhi will aid in effecting a complete transformation of the tribal ecosystem across the country.
MFP through MSP Scheme
- Among all of TRIFED’s initiatives that have been put in place to help the disadvantaged tribal sections of the society, the Scheme, Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) Through Minimum Support Price (MSP) & Development of Value Chain for MFP’ that provides MSP to gatherers of forest produce and introduces value addition and marketing through tribal groups and clusters and Van Dhan Vikas Kendras has found widespread acceptance across the country. Especially during the pandemic in 2020, this scheme has emerged as a panacea for the tribals.
- The objective of the MSP for MFP scheme is to establish a framework for ensuring fair prices for the tribal gatherers, primary processing, storage, transportation etc. while ensuring sustainability of the resource base addressing the problems tribals are facing such as perishable nature of the produce, lack of holding capacity, lack of marketing infrastructure, exploitation by middle men, and timely government intervention.
National Policy for Rare Diseases, 2021
- Recently, Union Health & Family Welfare Minister approved the “National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021”.
Challenges in the diagnosis of Rare diseases:
- The field of rare diseases is very complex and heterogeneous and prevention, treatment and management of rare diseases has multiple challenges.
- Early diagnosis of rare diseases is a major challenge owing to a variety of factors that include lack of awareness among primary care physicians, lack of adequate screening and diagnostic facilities etc.
- There are also fundamental challenges in the research and development for the majority of rare diseases as relatively little is known about the pathophysiology or the natural history of these diseases particularly in the Indian context.
- Rare diseases are also difficult to research upon as the patients pool is very small and it often results in inadequate clinical experience.
- The cost of treatment of rare diseases is prohibitively expensive. Various High Courts and the Supreme Court have also expressed concern about lack of a national policy for rare diseases.
- Availability and accessibility to medicines are also important to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with rare disease.
- Despite progress in recent years, there is a need to augment effective and safe treatment for rare diseases.
National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021
- It aims to lower the high cost of treatment for rare diseases with increased focus on indigenous research with the help of a National Consortium to be set up with Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare as convenor.
- Increased focus of research and development and local production of medicines will lower the cost of treatment for rare diseases.
- The policy also envisage creation of a national hospital based registry of rare diseases so that adequate data is available for definition of rare diseases and for research and development related to rare diseases within the country.
- The Policy also focuses on early screening and prevention through primary and secondary health care infrastructure such as Health and Wellness Centres and District Early Intervention Centres (DEICs) and through counselling for the high-risk parents.
- Screening will also be supported by Nidan Kendras set up by Department of Biotechnology.
- Policy also aims to strengthen tertiary health care facilities for prevention and treatment of rare diseases through designating 8 health facilities as Centre of Excellence and these CoEs will also be provided one-time financial support of up to Rs 5 crores for upgradation of diagnostics facilities.
- A provision for financial support up to Rs. 20 lakhs under the Umbrella Scheme of Rastriya Arogya Nidhi is proposed for treatment, of those rare diseases that require a one-time treatment (diseases listed under Group 1 in the rare disease policy).
- Beneficiaries for such financial assistance would not be limited to BPL families, but the benefit will be extended to about 40% of the population, who are eligible under Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana.
- Besides, the Policy also envisages a crowd funding mechanism in which corporates and individuals will be encouraged to extend financial support through a robust IT platform for treatment of rare diseases.
- Funds so collected will be utilized by Centres of Excellence for treatment of all three categories of rare diseases as first charge and then the balance financial resources could also be used for research.