Zimbabwe — While we are quick to think of drought in terms of food imports to replace failed crops and dams and boreholes as the answer to resultant water shortages, one concern tends to be overlooked — the risk of fire.
The risk of fire in our national parks and farms is a particularly frightening prospect this year because the lush growth of vegetation produced by the rains has now dried out.
Veld fires do not only pose danger to wildlife and vegetation, but to human beings as well.
Last week, a Rusape woman sustained serious burns while her eight-month-old baby was burnt to death by a fire she had lit to burn maize stalks in her field.
She had left the sleeping infant under the shade of a tree while clearing her field when it suddenly became so windy that she failed to control the fire which swept through the field and burnt her child to death.
The incident is really unfortunate.
Each year, veld fires are responsible for the loss of thousands of hectares of pastures; they are a danger to life and in addition to lost grazing land, there is the value of lost crops, hay, fence polls and buildings.
To control veld fires, it is logical to remove the causes of such fires.
Most uncontrolled fires are attributed to escaped intentional fires, burnt fireguards and fires left for dead.
Carelessness of the public in throwing away lit matches and cigarettes, in burning rubbish and leaving camp fires alight cause many fires while some can be attributed to arson.
To combat such fires, the Forestry Company of Zimbabwe has injected $5 billion towards the development of infrastructure in Matabeleland North Province.
This is highly commended.
In the past two years, raging fires destroyed at least 800 000 hectares of gazetted State forests in that province.
In Manicaland, statistics show that between July and November last year, 257 forest fires were reported and destroyed 9 586 hectares of timber worth more than $20 trillion.
This constitutes 12 percent of Zimbabwe’s pine plantations.
Forests contribute over 3 percent to Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
There is no doubt that environmentalists are concerned about the problems of fires and the effects it has had on the ecosystem.
The Forestry Company and the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority should step up efforts in areas requiring fire management and get rid of moribund vegetation through deliberate burning every three to four years.
Fireguards are essential in effective fire control and also for controlled burning.
The fires we have witnessed recently could be the product of either careless people or small time poachers. And in most cases this would be for illegal hunting anyway. While travelling, responsible Zimbabweans avoid tossing out cigarette ends or glass bottles, another common cause of veld fires.
We urge farmers to ensure that their workers are aware of the many evils of uncontrolled fires and also of the penalties involved by giving them “pep” talk before every fireseason.
Local authorities should put their foot down and help stamp out such destructive tendencies in their areas.
The penalty for those who start veld fires should be heavy and deterrent.
The majority of people in Zimbabwe now benefit from game harvests of the Campfire programme so that there is no need for poaching which leads to some of the fires.