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UN: Wildfires Getting Worse, Nations Unprepared

Homes burn as wildfires rip through a housing development, Dec. 30, 2021, in Superior, Colorado.
Homes burn as wildfires rip through a housing development, Dec. 30, 2021, in Superior, Colorado.
UN: Wildfires Getting Worse, Nations Unprepared
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A new United Nations report says a warming planet and changes to land use suggest an increase in wildfires around the world in coming years. The report says these wildfires will cause an increase in smoke pollution and other problems that world governments are not prepared for.

The report was released Wednesday from the United Nations Environment Program. It said wildfires worldwide could increase by one-third by 2050. The increase will reach more than 50 percent by the year 2100, the report said.

The western United States, central India and eastern Australia are already seeing more wildfires.

Even areas once considered safe from major fires, such as the Arctic, will “very likely” experience a major increase in burning.

Tropical forests in Indonesia and the southern Amazon of South America also are likely to see increased wildfires, the report found.

Andrew Sullivan is one of the report’s writers. He is with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. He said, “Uncontrollable and devastating wildfires are becoming an expected part of the seasonal calendars in many parts of the world.”

The report describes a worsening series of events. Climate change will bring more dry periods and higher temperatures that make it easy for fires to start and spread. Those fires then release more climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere as they burn through forests.

Some areas, including parts of Africa, are seeing a decrease in wildfires. That is partly because more land is being used for agriculture, said report co-writer Glynis Humphrey. She is with the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

But U.N. researchers said many nations continue to spend too much time and money fighting fires and not enough trying to prevent them. Land use changes can make the fires worse. The report said the remains left behind by the logging industry can easily burn. And some forests are purposely burned to clear land for farming.

Poor communities are often hit hardest by fires. Wildfires can worsen water quality, destroy crops and reduce land available to grow food.

Humphrey said the fires affect people’s jobs and their economic situation. She added that it is very important “that fire be in the same category of disaster management as floods and droughts.”

In the United States, officials recently announced a $50-billion effort to reduce fire risks over the next 10 years. The plan involves thinning forests around areas where nature and human living spaces meet. However, the administration of President Joe Biden has so far identified only a small part of the funding called for in the plan.

The U.N. researchers also called for more careful attention to the dangers from wildfire smoke inhalation. Inhaling, or breathing in, smoke can affect tens of millions of people each year. Smoke from major wildfires can travel thousands of kilometers across international borders.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Matthew Brown reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English.


Words in This Story

calendarn. a chart showing the days, weeks, and months of the year

devastatingadj. causing great damage or harm

categoryn. a basic division or grouping of things

managementn. the act of looking after and making decisions about something

loggingn. the activity or business of felling trees and cutting and preparing the timber