Biodiversity Nepal
For the Future Generation

Saving Biodiversity Hotspots: Technology For Better Conservation

Nepal implements a better forest fire detection system based on a satellite navigation system.


Community-based Forest Management of Nepal is praised as a successful model for participatory forest management in the world which has helped Nepal to expand its forest to 44.74%. But with the rapid pace of climate change and associated anthropogenic threats, thousands of hectares of forest land are in danger from a forest fire in Nepal

Nepal has been losing nearly 200,000 hectares of forest cover every year since 2005 due to forest fires. Out of total forest fire incidences, 58% are caused by intentional burning by poachers, grazers, and non-timber forest product collectors, some fires tend to result as a result of carelessness and few others by the natural process as well.

In 2009, a forest fire in Ramechhap district led to the death of 49 people including 13 Nepal Army personnel which is the biggest loss from wildfire in recent times. In 2016, Nepal lost nearly 1.3 million hectares of forest, and 15 people dead in the span of just 2 weeks. (Forest News).

Photo by: Christain Roberts-Olsen

As a result, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has initiated a unique initiative: SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) in collaboration with the Department of Forests which controls the Forest Fire Detection and Alert Information System for Nepal. 

Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) from NASA’s Terra and Aqua Satellites was used to develop this system which provides all in one solution to address the forest fire problem faced by foresters in Nepal. This system uses earth observation data for near real-time fire tracking, monitoring, and charred area assessments.

If a fire is detected from space, a text message and email are sent directly to subscribers in the affected area providing information about the size and location of the fire. The alerts are delivered within 2O minutes of detection to hundreds of District Forests Officers and Local Community representatives of overall districts. The information is also published through a web mapping application that allows for dynamic visualization of fire location at any time as per user interest.

A mobile application called ‘Nepal Forest Fire Detection and Alert’ is also deployed to facilitate citizen reporting on fire incidents in Nepal. And now the system is at permanent display at the  Department of Forests headquarter in Kathmandu,  providing near real-time data on forest fire of Nepal as an effective fire management tool. In the following years, it is expected that this system will play a major role in managing the forest resources of the country.

Photo by: Vishwas Chitale, ICIMOD

However, low efficiency due to clouds, sun glint affecting the detectability, huge labor, and financial input are some of the challenges that need to be overcome. Lack of awareness is another big challenge. 

Amidst the pandemic, with limited human mobility, the forest fire number has dropped to 8.11 percent in Nepal.  Thus, controlled deliberate burning, minimization for human errors leading to forest fire, fencing burnt area for immediate auto-recovery, and continuous monitoring of forest lines can be the appropriate measures to prevent forest fires in Nepal.

Author: Chitra Rekha Basyal is a BSc Forestry graduate with a profound passion for wildlife research and conservation. She has done research projects on endangered reptile species like Gharial crocodile and Elongated tortoise. Currently, she is working as an intern at Red Panda Network, Nepal.

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