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 of the lush vegetation that was produced by incessant rains.
Veld fires do not only pose danger to wildlife and vegetation, but to human beings as well.
It is in this context that we welcome the warning by the Environmental Management Agency in Mashonaland East Province that perpetrators of veld fires will not be spared this year.
The agency says it will come down heavily on people who start fires without authority or prior notification to the police.
It is sad to note that 33 804 hectares of land was destroyed by veld fires last year compared to 9 885 hectares in 2006.
Some of the fires are caused by a cigarette stub carelessly thrown away, but the cost of the damage could run into billions of dollars.
Each year, Zimbabwe experiences some of the most devastating veld fires with vast grasslands and timber plantations being devoured; the veld fires are a danger to life and in addition to lost grazing pastures, there is the value of lost crops, hay, fence polls and buildings.
The effects of veld fires on the environment may seem temporary, but there are long term ramifications on bio-diversity, damage which may be irreversible.
To control veld fires, it is logical to remove the causes of such fires.
As we have pointed out before, most uncontrolled fires are attributed to carelessness such as throwing away lit matches and cigarette stubs, burning rubbish and leaving camp fires alight.
There is no doubt that environmentalists are concerned about problems of fires and the effects it has had on the ecosystem.
Fireguards are essential in effective fire control and also for controlling burning.
The fires we have witnessed in recent years could be the product of either careless people or small time poachers. And in most cases this would be for illegal hunting anyway.
Responsible travelling 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 dangers of uncontrolled fires and also of the penalties involved by giving them “pep” talks before every fire season.
The environmental authority spends billions of dollars every year educating people on the dangers of veld fires, but it would seem it 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.
The stiffer penalties and clearing road verges are, however, only part of the solution.
There is need for both Environmental Management Agency and the police to strictly enforce the Forestry Act so that every farmer, whether commercial or communal, has a fireguard around his property. 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.