35% of the forestland burned over the past eight years was due to Iranian and Turkish bombings. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – It is July time and temperatures are rising. Forests in the Kurdistan Region are in danger of catching fire. Teams from the ministry of agriculture and fire department are on standby. But it is unlikely we will survive a fire with minimum damage due to the low budgets dedicated to these teams.
According to figures produced by the ministry of agriculture and water resources, over the past eight years, 1,031,290 acres of forests were burned. Most of this happened over the past three years, during which 559,469 acres of forests were burned, making up 57 percent of the forests burned over the past eight years.
“Due to the economic crisis, it’s been three years we haven’t been able to build fire barriers to protect forests from fires and clean them. This has increased the damage incurred as a result of fires in these forests,” Hussein Hamakarim, director general of forests at the ministry of agriculture.
July is known for fires. Hamakarim said fire barriers have been built for only two percent of the forests, and only this percentage has been cleaned.
“Ninety-eight percent of forests in the Kurdistan Region are in threat of catching fire, especially this year with too much rain fall [producing lots of scrub] ... and rising temperatures,” he said.
According to investigations carried by the ministry of agriculture into these fires, 35 percent of the forestland burned over the past eight years was due to Iranian and Turkish bombings.
“There are many reasons behind blazes. But according to investigations carried out into blazes of the past three years, we have found out that most of these blazes were due to negligence, some deliberate, remnants of fire made by shepherds and tourists, Iranian and Turkish bombings,” Hamakarim said.
Outmoded fire control methods
, the vastness of forests, the lack of proper roads, the mining of some forests, and the lack of fire barriers have doubled the extent of the damage these fires cause.
“Anyone who cuts old trees or deliberately sets fire to forests will be imprisoned for a period of time no less than six months and a fine of no less than five million dinars,” article 22 of forest law says.
“The courts don’t unfortunately implement this law adequately. They release people arrested for deliberately setting fire to a forest on bail and sentence them according to the environment law, which is very little,” Hamakarim said.
Samad Mohammed, head of the environment protection body in the Kurdistan Region, said: “In addition to burning trees, bushes and seeds, fires destroy hundreds of types of birds and animals. They even change the climate of the environment.”
According to figures produced by the ministry of agriculture, most of these fires over the past eight years were reported in the province of Sulaimani, during which 580,380 acres of forest were burned in the province. This accounts for 56.2 percent of the forests burned over the past eight years.
Last year, the province of Halabja saw most fire incidents, where 30,757 acres of forest in the province were burned. This makes up 58 percent of the forests burned last year – nearly 52,777 acres.
“Most fire incidents of last year in the province of Halabja are attributed to negligence or were made deliberately. Some fires were caused by the shots fired by Iranian border patrol, who sometimes fire at forests to clear their surrounding areas from bushes,” Mohammed Mahmud, director of forests in the province of Halabja, told Rudaw.
“Last year’s fires have caused a lot of damage to forests in Halabja province. Nearly 8,000 acres of forests were burned,” he added.
This year, there have so far been four fire incidents in the province of Halabja, burning nearly 273 acres of natural and artificial forests. Other forests are in danger of catching fire because of the lack of sufficient fire barriers.