Namibia — Catalysmic bush infernos wreaking havoc across the country are a major cause for concern because valuable vegetation is ruined, depriving livestock and wild animals of their main food source – grass and tree leaves in the case of browsers.
The regions adversely affected by these uncontrolled bush fires are Caprivi, Kavango, Omaheke and and Otjozondjupa. And statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry indicate that uncontrolled bush fires annually ravage between 3 million to 7 million hectares of land in Namibia.
Apart from reducing valuable pasture to ashes thus depriving mostly free-range cattle and wild animals of their main source of food, bush fires damage the environment and this adversely impacts on tourism – one of the top earners of much-needed foreign revenue.
Human activity such as villagers setting fire to specific thickets of bush to flush out small game such as warthogs, springbok and others that they hunt for the pot and when they try to smoke out bees from their hives with the aim to harvest honey, cause bush fires.
In one recent blaze a single farmer among many in the Otjozondjupa Region lost an entire herd of wild animals in a blaze that reduced to ashes grazing covering a thousand hectares.
At times extensive damage is caused on property while humans perish in such fires. As we speak, most of the grazing along an important flood plain that provides pasture to thousands of cattle and wild animals that normally graze along this plain in Caprivi only has ashes.
Some villagers deliberately start bush fires so that cattle have greener pasture.
Among those identified, as culprits, by the traditional khuta at Bukalo are fishermen who in some cases often come to Namibia without proper travel documentation such as passports.
They usually start with a small spark but this triggers one thing after another, until a small blaze becomes a raging inferno that destroys everything and anything in its path.
Where humans do not cause these fires bolts of lightning are known to cause these fires.
This problem is compounded by inadequate incentives to undertake effective control measures, due to unclear property rights in communal lands, and inadequate coordination and cooperation arrangements between the various communities.
Confusion wrought about by laws that overlap and more so in conflict with one another, lead to lax control over fires.
We feel traditional leaders need to be given more leeway in dealing with this problem by way of giving them more powers – though for now some of them can impose fines of up to N$400 or a fine of one cow for those convicted of deliberately causing bush fires.
More resources need to be availed to sensitise these communities on the dangers of deliberately causing such fires that have a very detrimental impact on the environment.
We need to strengthen existing sensitization campaigns that are usually carried out through radio, and the community needs to be more pro-active if we are in future to – once and for all – contain these ruinous infernos, particularly ones caused by villagers out illegally hunting for the occasional game meat, as they strive to fend for their usually extended families.
We should not wait with arms akimbo doing nothing and only be mobilised to do something if we are in the middle of a raging inferno.
Sensitising villagers by informing them about the dangers lurking out of these fires could in one way remedy this problem.
Investing in mobile fire-fighting equipment is an area that should be explored and putting more stress on prevention is another tool – true to the adage prevention is better than cure.