Harare, Zimbabwe — The cold winter season is almost over and the hot summer season, often dry and windy, is fast approaching.
During this season, weather experts strongly advise people against starting fires as the chances of these fires getting out of hand are extremely high.
Every year during this season, various Government agents, including the Environment Management Authority and the police, launch massive nationwide campaigns against veld fires.
But these seem to have failed to achieve the desired results if the number of fires started so far this year and the destruction caused is anything to go by.
According to the EMA, at least 4 000 hectares of vegetation were destroyed by veld fires over the past three months countrywide.
A considerable number of animals were also killed while timber plantations and pastures were destroyed.
The agency also estimates that property worth over $10 billion was lost more than a week ago when fire destroyed plantations in the Eastern Highlands.
On Tuesday, we reported that 83 000 kilogrammes of cotton worth $2 billion stuffed in bales were destroyed by a veld fire at a depot in Raffingora, Mashonaland West Province.
In another incident, fire destroyed the Shona Village at the Great Zimbabwe National Museum in Masvingo at the weekend.
And today we report that 35 hectares of seed maize were burnt in Mhangura, also in Mashonaland West.
These incidents are just a tip of the iceberg. Veld fires continue to rage throughout the countryside this time of the year. The tragedy is that lives have been lost.
EMA spends billions of dollars every year educating people on the dangers of veld fires, but it would seem the agency still has a big task on its hands.
We, therefore, feel that apart from educating the public about the dangers of veld fires, those caught on the wrong side of the law should be given deterrent fines or sentences by the courts.
This is why we welcome the imposition of such deterrent fines for those convicted of starting wild fires.
We also welcome the move by EMA to clear road verges along the country’s main highways. It is suspected that smoking motorists who discard cigarette stubs onto the grass verges causes some of the fires.
The stiffer penalties and clearing road verges are, however, only part of the solution. There is need for both the EMA and police to strictly enforce the Forestry Act and the Ecosystems Protection Regulations of 2007 so that every farmer, whether commercial or communal, has a fireguard around his property.
More fire-fighters also need to be trained and equipped to fight veld fires.
It takes months and years for flora and fauna to grow and the role these play in the ecosystem is too important to be destroyed in a few hours with the strike of a matchstick.