Harare, Zimbabwe — The banning of open fires for the next three months by Government this week should send strong signals to those who play with fire and destroy our environment that their time is up.
The ban was, in fact, long overdue as it came when millions of hectares of grazing land and forestry have been torched to ashes by uncontrolled veld fires.
This week alone, uncontrolled fires destroyed swathes of grassland in Mukuvisi Woodlands in Harare and Matopo National Park outside Bulawayo, destroying the natural habitat for animals in these sanctuaries. These fires have destroyed millions of acres of grazing land and forestry as it has become a habit for some people to burn grass every dry season. Sadly, our communities have over the years watched this evil practice with indifference.
It is estimated that timber worth more than $800 million has so far been destroyed by wild fires since the beginning of the dry season. But with the ban invoked by the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Cde Francis Nhema, this week, it is hoped that the Government will put its foot down and effectively deal with those causing these fires. According to Statutory Instrument 7 Environmental Management (Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection) of 2007, no one shall start a fire outside residential and commercial premises.
Failure to observe this law would result in heavy punishment for perpetrators, with fines for environmental offences having been increased to $50 million or six months in prison, or both as a way of curbing the menace. But on its own, the ban of open fires will not achieve much. It needs proper policing and the co-operation of everyone, from the village head down to the ordinary villager, and the new farmer.
We implore the ministry to put in place proper mechanisms to implement this ban and bring the culprits to book. Awareness campaigns need to be carried out throughout the country, in schools, villages and other public places, to educate people of the dangers of uncontrolled veld fires.
Over the years, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, through the Environment Management Agency, has run awareness campaigns through radio, television and the newspapers, but these seem to have failed to work mainly because of lack of mechanisms to catch the culprits and bring them to book.
In certain communities, culprits are known but no one bothers reporting them to the authorities because they either lack knowledge of the implications of veld fires on the environment or they simply do not care. It should also be the responsibility of every farmer to set up a fireguard on his or her property. This will ensure that fires can be easily controlled once they break out.
People should be educated of the damage veld fires cause not only to the environment, but to the economy by destroying tourist attraction areas such as game parks and the scenic views that Zimbabwe is renowned for.