The Effects of WildfiresThe effects of wildfires are destructive, deadly and devastating. Additionally, they are becoming increasingly frequent. From the west coast of the United States to Australia and Russia, wildfires are spreading like never before, wreaking havoc and adding unparalleled burden to the countries’ poor.

The Effects of Wildfires

Wildfires burden society by depleting resources, burdening the economies and impacting citizens’ health. Wildfires force the evacuation of people and often destroy homes and valuables. The University of Oregon Scholars Bank states that a person needs an income of twice the poverty line to be fully capable of protecting oneself, family and assets from fires. Thus, these fires have a disproportionate effect on the poor.

Wildfires Cause Depletion of Resources

One way in which wildfires are destructive is the depletion of resources. The burning of forests destroys properties, trees, vegetation and wildlife. Wildfires often strip families of everything they own in a matter of minutes.

In addition, these fires deplete not only air quality but water quality as well. As wildfires burn, they contaminate the water in streams, lakes and reservoirs which limits access to clean water. Thus, the affected area’s drinking water and food supply are not usable. Limited food and water supplies make it harder for the poor to live.

Wildfires Cause a Decrease in Economic Stability

Wildfires take a large toll on an affected areas’ economic security by causing economies to close. As a result of closing the economy, tourism decreases. The effects of wildfires make areas untravellable as they pose a massive threat to people and destroy forests and hiking trails that often draw tourists. In addition, the economy slowed due to the destruction of resources.

This lack of tourism and loss of resources cause loss of income in affected economies. So, as income from tourism decreases, the number of available low-paying service industry jobs decreases as well. This causes those already living on or below the poverty line to face greater financial hardships as hours and jobs are limited. Furthermore, as fires destroy forests and trees, jobs in the logging or wood chipping industries run scarce.

Wildfires Cause Strain on Human Health

Furthermore, wildfires pose a great threat to human health as their smoke depletes air quality. This can result in reduced lung function, bronchitis, heart failure and asthma among other things. The effects of wildfires on mental and physical health are long-lasting. These effects on health disproportionately affect the poor as they often have limited access to affordable healthcare.

The Increase in Wildfires Worldwide

Wildfires know no bounds and have begun to spread with increased frequency to places that have little to no previous experience with them. Siberia, a tundra that has had limited prior experience with fires, is now struggling to put out a fire that has burned upwards of 6.5 million acres. 

Similarly, in 2020, Australia suffered devastating wildfires that burned 44.5 million acres and killed upwards of 30 people. It killed large amounts of wildlife and devastated their environment. Likewise, Australians are feeling the effects of wildfires in Australia today. The Australian government did little to curtail the devastation of wildfires which led to countless protests by citizens.

The Good News

The devastating effects of wildfires worldwide are far from gone. However, through the increase in aid and wildfire-related programs, the goal to limit drastic spreads and devastation is possible.

The United States developed many fire-related programs that created job opportunities focused on research, fighting and prevention methods and landscape rehabilitation. These programs aim to limit the level of devastation associated with wildfires. Additionally, the USAID also provided humanitarian support to Australia throughout its 2020 wildfires.

With increased research and fire-related programs in addition to global support during times of active burns, the devastating impacts of wildfires can reduce. Thus, they will lower the impacts on communities and preventing an increased burden on the poor.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

Wildfires in SiberiaIn the summer of 2021, Russia experienced the driest weather in 150 years which caused wildfires in Siberia. Smoke covers the Yakutia region in particular and is destroying the Taiga forest around Teryut. Locals to this area, in part blaming an inadequate response to the fires by the Russian government, are beginning to help fight the fires.

What is at Stake

In 2020, the wildfires in Siberia destroyed 60,000 square miles of forest and tundra. This is equivalent to four times the area that burned in the United States in the same year.

For Russia, this means that the fires destroy drastic amounts of the boreal forest. It also releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This can contribute to higher temperatures overall. The forests in Siberia also have permafrost beneath them. This is part of the earth that stays frozen all year long. When fires blaze through the area, the permafrost melts, altering the dynamic of the forest itself. Instead of being the forest it has always been, the area has become much more swamp-like.

In the Yakutia region in particular, where the fires are decimating the Taiga forest, villagers’ livelihoods are at stake. People typically rely on the forest for food, including berries and meat. Additionally, they use wood to build structures and for warmth. The destruction of this resource can have a detrimental impact on the people who live there, especially the people who cannot afford to relocate.

Wildfires and Poverty

The destruction that wildfires create has a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty. People living below the poverty line often do not have insurance protecting their houses from such a catastrophe. They also may not have the resources needed to either rebuild a destroyed house or to move to another area.

A study that the National Bureau of Economic Research completed released results in 2020 that analyzed 90 years of data recorded during natural disasters. It concluded that when natural disasters occur, the poverty rate in that country increases by about 1%. This is a result of the migration of higher-income people. However, those unable to move often end up in even worse conditions than before.

How Locals Have Stepped in for the Government

One reason why the local villagers are volunteering to join fire fighting crews is the lack of response from the Russian government. The locals have put the main blame for the wildfires on the government’s unpreparedness for such a disaster. The government made budget cuts to forestry and banned getting rid of dry grass in high-risk areas and the hot summers.

The Russian government turned to conspiracy theories this time. It hypothesized that people hoping to make a profit set the fires on purpose. There are ongoing criminal investigations against authorities for not doing enough to fight the fires.

Most Recently

Locals have been doing the best they can given their lack of training and preparedness. Thankfully, the Russian government has recognized the severity of the situation in Siberia and has sent military planes in to assist the fight. These planes have dropped an estimated 370 tons of water onto the fires covering 2 million acres of land.

With the locals and the government working together, hopes are high that the joint effort can combat the fires effectively. While the government may not have done as much as it could have in the beginning, it did take action to help the situation. Hopefully, it will be able to effectively help to fight and prevent wildfires in Siberia in the future. In order to help and protect those living under the poverty line, this will likely be necessary.

– Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Flickr