Calls for Govt to act on veld fires

Harmony Agere
\nGovernment has been urged to act swiftly on eradicating the scourge of veld fires as they have far-reaching consequences such as land degradation and climate change. Reported cases of veld fires have been on a rapid increase in the past 15 years and conservationists say the fires appear to be worse this year. The phenomenon has claimed six lives so far with foliage on 1 023 354,6 hectares of land scorched.

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According to authorities, the area affected by veld fires so far this year has already surpassed last year’s figures. Estimates put the destroyed infrastructure at about $1 695 772.

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Farms and conservancies, particularly those in farming Regions One and Two are the ones counting the greatest loses.
\nBut the worry is that while the effects of veld fires are there for everyone to see, there are no efforts to deal with the problem of veld fires.
\nAs the country has been experiencing erratic weather patterns in the past decade, the resultant climate change — one of the consequences of veld fires — is taking effect.

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Environment Management Agency (EMA) acting spokesperson, Mr Liberty Mugadza, said veld fires are becoming difficult to deal with since the declining number of wildlife (herbivores) has meant that there is too much dry vegetation in the summer. He said there is a little chance of veld fires when there is a proportional number of wildlife as they would consume more vegetation during wet spells.

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“The hectareage that has been affected so far is 1 023 354,6 and six people have died as a result of veld fires so far. The figures show that the affected land is slightly more than what was recorded last year by this time,” he said.

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He added that the fires are being caused by negligent behaviour.
\n“The other factor is that in the past we used to have more wildlife to consume the vegetation during the wet spells but because the number of herbivores has decreased these days, there is a lot of vegetation which can easily burn during the dry spell.

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“People need to understand that we are now in the dry season and should behave appropriately.”
\nAccording to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Mr Prince Mupazviriho, there is need to include the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in the fight against veld fires as it can promote awareness.

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“An average of one million hectares of land is burnt each year and a total of 72 lives have been lost over the past five years due to veld fires. Prevention of the fires is better than putting out the fires, so there is need for the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to include the veld fire topic in their curricula.”

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Farmers say veld fires are more severe on them as they lose crops and livestock time and again.
\nZimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Mr Wonder Chabikwa said authorities should revive the system which was used to curb veld fires in the past.

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He said in the past, conservancy committees made up of farmers would take the mandate to protect the environment in commercial and communal lands, adding that cases of veld firers were very low then.

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“Veld fires affect farmers the most as they destroy the grazing lands and leave animals at a risk of starvation,” he said.
\n“There is need to bring back the committees which were made up of farmers to manage conservation both in commercial farms and communal areas. lt goes without saying that climate change, a consequence of veld fires, affects farming the most.”

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According to EMA, 90 percent of veld fires in the country are caused by human activity while 10 percent are natural.
\nInvestigations show that half a million hectares of land were burnt in 2001, the trend has been on the increase and the figure has since doubled.

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The fires have also put the timber industry at risk, some are even saying that if the trend continues at this rate, the trees might become extinct in the future. Further, about 30 percent of the country’s wildlife are also at risk.

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Whilst there are instruments to curb veld fires, the law is not being enforced adequately. The Forestry Act Chapter 19:0 provides for fireguard construction, notification before burning and penalties for not putting out veld fires.

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Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007: Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) provides for communities not to leave fires unattended. It defines the fire season and prohibits the starting of fires outside residential or commercial premises during the fire season. It also states adequate veld fire suppression measures and encourages communities to investigate and report fire incidents to EMA and the police.