Zimbabwe — The risk of veld fires is a particularly frightening prospect this time of the year because the lush growth of vegetation produced by the rains has now dried out.
Fire is the most widespread ecological disturbance in the world, which has also hit some countries in the Americas, Europe and Australia.
The effect of veld fires becomes more pronounced in Zimbabwe at this time of the year. Damage to the environment from veld fires comes second ahead of a plethora of other damages.
Already life has been lost after a Chishawasha man died while five others sustained serious burns in a veld fire that swept the area on Monday.
The loss of life and injuries could have been avoided if measures to control the fires had been put in place.
As was rightly pointed out by Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, “it is a serious offence to start fires when you cannot control them. There should be sufficient manpower to control the fire.”
While the burning of the grass, trees and maize stocks enriches the soil by adding minerals such as potash, the effects to the environment and human life far outweigh the benefits.
Veld fires cause tremendous damage to the pastures, buildings and homes.
In Zimbabwe, most of the veld fires are started at the beginning of summer each year, and this makes it even more dangerous to the environment as there is little chance for the survival of vegetation.
In attempting to control veld fires, it is logical to remove as far as possible the causes of such fires. Many uncontrolled fires are attributed to escaped intentional fires, burnt fireguards, fires left for dead, whirlwinds and lightning.
We have a good example of Hwange National Park, which has a firebreak almost completely around it. This prevents outside conflagrations from getting in. Before that it was an annual occurrence for much of the park to be burnt over.
We therefore urge the responsible authorities to step up efforts especially in areas where there are newly resettled farmers and get rid of moribund vegetation by deliberate burning every three to four years. Fireguards are the first essential in effective fire control and also for controlled burning.
The fires we have witnessed recently could be the product of either careless people or small-time poachers all for the purpose of catching a rabbit. And in most cases this would be for illegal hunting anyway.
While travelling, responsible Zimbabweans avoid tossing out cigarette ends and glass bottles another common cause of veld fires. Local authorities should put their foot down and help stamp out such destructive tendencies in their areas. The penalty for those who start veld fires should be heavy.
Some people in Zimbabwe now benefit from game harvests of the Campfire programme so that there is no need for poaching which leads to some of the fires.
We also feel that Members of Parliament should be in the forefront to create awareness on the dangers of veld fires and on the implementation of veld fires. MPs command a lot of support from the public and are always in touch with those at grassroots level. The role they play cannot be overemphasised.
Every Zimbabwean should take measures to ensure that people who deliberately cause veld fires and damage to the environment are brought to book.