Katima Mulilo, Namibia — Experts from 10 SADC countries and the United States converged at Katima Mulilo on Monday for the seventh Southern African Fire Network (SAFNET) conference.
The conference will end on Friday and is expected to establish new findings and detailed plans of action to improve fire management in the SADC region.
Officially opening the conference, Agriculture, Water, and Forestry Minister John Mutorwa told participants that according to the SADC protocol on forestry, it is incumbent upon every SADC member state to cooperate by assisting and supporting each other to address issues of common concern.
This includes, amongst others, deforestation, genetic erosion, climate change, forest fires, pests, diseases, invasive alien species and law enforcement in a manner that makes the best use of the technical, financial and other resources in the region.
Mutorwa stressed that SADC nations and governments are concerned about the negative effects of uncontrolled forest and veld fires. He warned that uncontrolled forest and veld fires can cause extensive damage to vital resources such as grass for grazing and thatching, non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and valuable wood.
Forest fires can also have a negative impact on the tourism sector as they destroy forests, wildlife and its inhabitants and even expensive infrastructure such as power lines, telephone lines and buildings.
Mutorwa stressed that it is important to note that the effects of forest fires pose risks to the livelihoods of the people and to national economies and development.
Fighting forest or veld fires should not be done in isolation, but rather concerted collaborative efforts are needed for all stakeholders to jointly cooperate and effectively manage, prevent and fight forest or veld fires, urged Mutorwa, stressing that uncontrolled forest fires are a cross-border phenomenon, hence effective concerted efforts and cooperation to deal with the problem are not optional.
Mutorwa outlined that as a member of SADC, Namibia has taken tremendous strides to combat forest fires by implementing the Integrated Fire Management project with the objective to educate the public on the dangers of fires, provide resources to prevent and fight fires when they occur, as well as enhance the development of skilled forestry human power in fire fighting.
He said Namibia is using the Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System to monitor the occurrences and proceedings of forest fires using satellite data in cooperation with the University of Maryland in the USA.
However, Mutorwa told participants that even though fires can be detrimental to the environment, they can also play an important role in the environment if positively used. He said if properly managed, fires help to shape the savannah and dry forest ecosystems, adding that some of the species in the environment need fire to germinate and grow.
He also stressed that if properly conserved, fire can be used as a management tool to help meet peoples various needs especially those related to agriculture and livestock.
Meanwhile, Caprivi Regional Governor Leonard Mwilima emphasized issues of global warming and the impact on controlling this natural phenomenon through well-planned efforts.
Forest fires are a contributing factor to the atmospheric emissions and thus this workshop is action in the right direction, added Mwilima.
Mwilima also welcomed participants to the Caprivi Region and urged them to make use of the opportunities to compile proper researches for the conference.
The theme of the conference is Towards Effective Regional Fire Management, Policies and Operations.