Veld fires declared national disaster

3 August 2007

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Mbabane, Swaziland — The Prime Minister Absalom Themba Dlamini yesterday declared the devastating veld fires experienced in the past week a national disaster.

This follows raging fires propelled by strong winds, which engulfed the country since last Week Tuesday. The Premier then announced a Cabinet Steering Committee to help coordinate all efforts aimed at circumventing the impending humanitarian crisis. A few months ago, government declared drought, which resulted to zero yield in the last farming season a national disaster. Coupled with the drought is a serious water crisis, especially in the low veld.

The premier appointed four Cabinet ministers into the special committee that would deal with the impending disaster. These are Minister of Regional Development and Youth Affairs Chief Sipho Shongwe, Minister of Housing and Urban Development Mabili Dlamini, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Mtiti Fakudze, Minister of Health and Social Welfare Njabulo Mabuza and Minister of Public Works and Transport Elijah Shongwe.

According to the to the Chairman of the Disaster Management Task Force, Ben Nsibandze, such a cabinet team once existed. He said its main function would be linking organisations, which are implementing partners working on the ground.

“The cabinet committee will work with organisations like the Red Cross Society, Save the Children, Swazi Farm Development Services, Caritas and ACAT,” said Sibongile Hlophe, Red Cross Director.

On Sunday, the PM toured Mondi Forest plantations in Pigg’s Peak and Endzingeni where uncontrollable flames had already destroyed over 80 percent of the forest and several dozens of homes where food was also destroyed.

The fire also cost the lives of two men who were discovered burnt beyond recognition at Mondi Forest. Last Friday, the Prime Minister mobilised all government tankers to rush to the northern Hhohho town and help in putting the flames under control. However, he noted that the fire was way above the manpower of all ‘forces’ combined.

Christopher Fakudze of Natural Resources and Energy asked the prime minister if the police and the army personnel would be rallied to join the fire fighting teams. He also wished to know if money was available for the disaster.

“I think when it appears there is a shortage of manpower do indicate to the Cabinet Steering Committee. We have to take the matter seriously,” the premier said. Further, he said the matter was urgent and could not be shelved for the future.

He noted that the wild fires had left some without any food, roof over their heads and clothes to wear. “All of us should put everything else aside and focus on this disaster.

“There are things you can postpone but not this one,” he said, mentioning that the accountant general and the minister of finance have already been instructed to release the necessary finances to help bring normality to the situation.

The premier said the normal government bureaucracy where money is concerned would have to wait, but promised that every cent would have to be safeguarded. “I have confidence in the ministers and request government officials to show passion for this emergency,” he said. He also said both the army and police were ready to move in and assist in the raging fires. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Mathendele Dlamini said the armed forces would not only be there to extinguish the fires, but also to protect vulnerable families whose homes were destroyed.

He further said that Government was still to prepare an assessment of the damage caused by the fires. On the other hand, the Prime Minister introduced to Parliament the Disaster Steering Committee which is going to deal with the atrocities caused by the fire. Meanwhile, Mahlangatsha MP Jimmy Hlophe proposed that a national prayer be called since the damage caused by the fire was beyond the control of the country thus needed divine intervention. “We need to pray as a nation and tell God that what has befallen us is beyond our control,” said Hlophe.

On the other hand, Lobamba MP Marwick Khumalo said he House had said too many lamentations and that the time to act more than talk had come. “We all feel the pain that the fires have caused in the country and that it is time to move on and look into how we can deal with this disaster, especially because Government has taken a stand,” said MP Khumalo, adding that a joint effort between the steering committee and Members of Parliament would be the most efficient way in helping the victims of the fires.

“I am concerned that if there is no joint effort some areas will be left out because in as much as the committee will do its work, the MPs know the affected people much better,” suggested Khumalo.

On the other hand, Kwaluseni MP Sibusiso Nkambule said the root cause of the disaster should be established by Government so that such an occurrence was avoided in the future. “This could be an act of sabotage,” said MP Nkambule.

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