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Fires taking heavy toll on forests
T&T is well on its way to becoming a nation of pyromaniacs. Minister of the Environment and Water Resources Ganga Singh said so on Wednesday during his address at the launch of the Forestry Division’s Forest Fire Prevention Programme. The launch was held at the River Estate Museum and Water Wheel Historic Site in Diego Martin.
Singh said there was great need for his ministry to build awareness about the effects of forest fires on public health, the environment and on infrastructure. He said he was alarmed when he heard from Chief Fire Officer Nayar Rampersad that there had been a total of 468 reported fires between December 2012 and now, with 388 of them taking place in the month of February alone.
“That is, apart from the fact that we have had 97 fires for the forest guardians to deal with, some 330 hectares, almost 800 acres of forest cover, burnt to the ground already,” he said. He added that if this trend continued, the forest cover would be decimated. Singh said the ministry’s plans for legislative intervention would be accompanied by stronger law enforcement. Included in these plans, he said, is the need to change the Agricultural Fires Act, which is “perhaps as old as the forestry division.”
He said in the development of the programme, the division was pleased to collaborate with the Ministry of National Security, as well as the T&T Air Guard. He explained that both the National Security Operation Centre (NSOC) and the T&T Air Guard would utilise some of their helicopters for aerial fire-fighting. Attached to each helicopter is a Bambi Bucket—a specialised container to collect and deliver water in order to extinguish fires below. During the launch, one of T&T Air Guard aerial fire-fighting helicopters hovered above the site, allowing those present to see the suspended Bambi Bucket.
Apart from measures such as this, Singh said, the ministry needed to tell citizens that “setting fires indiscriminately is a crime against the environment.” He said members of the public needed to know that a permit is required for slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as clearing bush by burning. This, he said, would be a key part of the ministry’s initiatives to educate the public about forest fire prevention. “We must now have zero tolerance for persons setting fires in our environment, in our backyards, in our communities and in our country,” he said. Video footage was shown of aircraft being used to extinguish fires along the Northern Range and in parts of Cumuto.
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