Government is in the process of formulating a new strategic fire policy to assist in the prevention and management of fires in the country.
This is because the current law governing the use and control of fire – Herbage Preservation Act of 1997 is outdated.
Permits for carrying out prescribed fires are also issued under the same act. A member of the National Committee on Disaster Management, Dr Opha Dube said the act was an uncoordinated piece of legislation under the forestry department.
She was presenting on the topic Veld Fire and Disaster Management Structures and Techniques at the first Fire Safety seminar in Gaborone on September 23.
Dr Dube, who is also a senior environmental lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB), said notwithstanding such as law, there was still lack of capacity to enforce it, noting that causing fire in Botswana was a crime which attracted a minimum sentence of six months imprisonment.
The UB lecturer said countries such as South Africa had already implemented their National Veld and Forest Fire Act of 1998 and had established the Fire Protection Association to decentralise governance of fire issues to the lowest practical level.
Conversely, Dr Dube said fire issues in Botswana were strongly controlled by government when in fact they should be controlled by the communities themselves.
She, however, said the National Committee on Disaster Management provided for disaster management focal persons representing ministries in any disaster risk management activity as well as serving as members of the committee.
Dr Dube said the fires in Botswana were facilitated by lightening, winds, temperatures and lack of humidity, adding that pick periods start in the month of October when temperatures were high and the season dry.
She said most of the fire outbreaks emanated from the communal areas where there was high concentration of people and spread to protected areas such as wildlife management areas and lodges in the forests. She appealed to Batswana to strike the balance because some people still depended on fire for livelihood.
Officially opening the workshop, the Assistant Minister of Local Government Mr Oreeditse Molebatsi said of recent there had been cases of fire outbreaks in industrial and commercial buildings in the country resulting in astronomical insurance claims. Besides, Mr Molebatsi said some of the adverse effects of such unfortunate incidents were disruption to production, loss of sales and clients and the subsequent job loses.
The minister gave an example of the Nata Bird Sanctuary but said fortunately the fire did not spread to the Sua Pan which is the home to a variety of birds, among them pelicans, kori bustard, African fish eagle and flamingoes.
He said had the fire managed to reach the pan, which is just 15km from the Sanctuary, it would have affected other tourist attractions areas such as the Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, Gcwihaba Caves, Tsodilo Hills and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The sites make at least 60 percent of the countrys protected heritage sites.