FOREST fires are a common occurrence at this time of the year, when bushes and grass are dry and weather conditions contribute to fires raging out of control.
Up to 90 per cent of bush fires are caused by human beings.
The causes vary from smokers who drop cigarette ends, to bee hunters who forget to put their fires out, children who play with matches, people making picnics and hunters who want to scare away animals.
Fires can also be caused by natural forces such as lightning, but this happens to a lesser extent, says Wycliffe Nabaasa of the Community Forestry project in North-Eastern Namibia.
“The question of fire, when and where one should burn and for what reason, is an ongoing debate.
Some people argue that there is new and fresh grass for thatching and grazing after a fire, while hunters maintain that the young and tender grass after a fire attracts game.
Other people burn bushes because they fear dangerous snakes that hide in thick undergrowth,” says Nabaasa.
Whatever the reasons, it is prohibited to burn forests.
There are traditional and national laws against starting fires, and transgressors could be fined.
The Traditional Authority Law states that “a person who causes fire to start, or is deemed to have started a fire, is liable for paying five head of cattle, or more, depending on the extent of the damage”.
The Forest Act States that ” …a person who caused fire to start or is deemed to have started the fire, is liable for being imprisoned for a period not less than one year, or a fine not exceeding N$4000, or both”.
One of the aims of the Community Forestry project in North Eastern Namibia (CFNEN) is to educate the community on fire through training and workshops, educational sessions at schools, and through the media.
The ultimate aim is to encourage communities to manage forest resources in a sustainable manner and to assume responsibility for the forests.
Information provided by the project to communities include measures to contain fires.
These include the early burning of stretches to separate forest areas, and the construction of cut lines.
These are narrow stretches dug to separate different sections of the forest so that the fire does not “jump” to other sections of the forest.
Ways to fight a fire include using sticks, spades, hoes, rakes, axes, and pangas.
The best times to fight a fire are early mornings, late in the evening, on cloudy days or when there is little or no wind at all.
According to Nabaasa the bottom line remains that fires are very destructive to resources and property.
“Therefore there is a strong need to control burning in order to save our resources and property.”
The CFNEN project is also helping communities to manage forest resources on their own while generating income from them.
The project is managed in co-operation with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the German Development Service and the German Development Bank.
Administrative, logistical and technical support are provided to local communities interested in managing their forest resources.
The process of establishing a community forest entails the commissioning of communal land in the Government Gazette.
So far, eight communities at Bukalo, Masida, Lubuta in Caprivi, Mile 20, Ncamagoro, Mbeyo, and Ncaute in Kavango Region, and M’kata in the West Tsumkwe district have submitted their documents to become community forests.
Nabaasa says the project has also mobilised communities at Lusese in the Caprivi Region, and Likwaterera, Cuma, Gcwajinga and Katope in the Kavango Region to form forest management structures.
This will ensure that the resources are used in a sustainable manner.
Workshops and training conducted so far entailed forest resource management, accounts, fire prevention and handling techniques.
In addition, the project has run workshops on fire prevention and handling techniques, while a fire awareness drama has been broadcast on radio.