GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 693, 8 June 2023

Canada: Raging Wildfires and its fallouts
Akriti Sharma

In the news
On 7 June, Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, stated: "We are already seeing one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, and we must prepare for a long summer. The threat of increased fires due to climate change." Canada has been witnessing hundreds of wildfires resulting in the evacuation and destruction of infrastructure. The wildfires have engulfed 9.4 million hectares of land since 7 June 2023.
According to the government of Canada, projections indicate a potential for continued higher-than-normal fire activity across most of the country. The ongoing wildfire season is due to drought conditions. Canada is currently at national preparedness level five, indicating that it has fully committed all its national resources to mobilise the fight against the fires.
On 7 June, the US President, Joe Biden, directed his administration to deploy all available federal firefighting assets that can rapidly assist in suppressing fires impacting Canadian and American communities.

Issues at large
First, the unusual intensity of wildfires. Canada has the world's most dense forests, making it prone to wildfires every year. However, this year the intensity of wildfires is unusual. The wildfires, which used to be restricted to the country's southern parts, have spread to the eastern parts. Additionally, intense levels of wildfires are uncommon during the beginning of the season.
Second, climate change links to extreme weather events. The unusual increase in the frequency, intensity, and magnitude of wildfires can be attributed to climate change. IPCC has claimed a strong link between extreme weather events and climate change. Climate change is also acting as a cause and effect. Climate change has triggered wildfires; on the other hand, wildfires are destroying the forests, which are the natural carbon sinks, emitting greenhouse gases due to the burning of organic matter, contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions - leading to air pollution.
Third, the worsening air quality. Canadian cities like Toronto had an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) of seven, indicating a "high risk" to human health. Calgary, Edmonton, and Forth Smith had an AQHI of five, implying a "moderate risk." The smoke crossed Canada and affected US cities, including New York, which witnessed poor air quality. Citizens were advised to wear masks to avoid the health risks of poor air quality.

In perspective
First, keeping a check on human-caused wildfires. Even though 85 per cent of the ongoing fires have been caused by natural causes like lightning, 15 per cent are caused by human actions. Natural reasons cannot be controlled, but human causes can be restricted.
Second, the vulnerable population. The wildfire impacts will be much higher for the vulnerable population including the indigenous communities. The preparedness and response plans need to take enhanced action for vulnerable populations.
Third, efficient preparedness. Since Canada is expecting a harsh wildfire season, early warning systems and emergency plans would help manage the wildfires with lesser damage.

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