By Roque J. Galo

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Inzuna) – This Central American nation could be on the verge of a “national emergency” as forest fires rage across different areas of the country, according to Roberto Herrera, Honduras’ National Commissioner for Human Rights.

According to data by Honduras’ National Institute of Conservation and Forest Development (ICF by its acronym in Spanish), 447,000 hectares (1,104,561 acres) of forests have been burned down in the Central American nation during the last eight years.  According to the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environment (SERNA), 280 forest fires have raged around the country as of April of this year across 24,047 hectares (59,421 acres) in the departments of Gracias a Dios, Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso, Valle and Choluteca.

And the degradation is not only hurting the environment. Citizens and the economic development of the country are also victims of the fires.

“These fires and the over-exploitation of our natural resources cause damage in our different watershed and basins,” Commissioner Herrera told Inzuna. “This produces water shortages in towns, cities and economic development areas.”

To plan a national strategy against these fires, the Honduran government inaugurated February 26 the National Commission of Forest Protection (Conaprofor), composed of members of the Armed Forces, the National Forest Conservation Institute, the National Fire Department and the National Commission of Contingencies.

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But the fires have continued to burn throughout Honduras.

On April 23, a fire on the hills surrounding the Honduran capital forced the closing of Tegucigalpa’s Toncontins airport. That day, seven different hills throughout the city were on fire, according to local media. No explanation as of what caused the fires has been given by authorities.

“Collaboration from the public is needed to find out what or who caused these fires,” said José Antonio Galdámez, head of SERNA.

His agency has established a phone number, 116, where citizens can report anonymously any fire, he added.

“So far, we have had half the amount of fires that we had at the same time in 2013,” Galdámez told local media. “We will keep working.”

“We need to work together to put the brakes [on the wild fires],” Commissioner Herrera said. “Our duty is leave an adequate environment for future generations to live with dignity.”

Follow Roque J. Galo on Twitter at @RoqueJGalo

Follow Inzuna on Twitter at @inzuna

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