Zimbabwe — The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Cde Francis Nhema, told over 500 farmers, villagers and school children at the Matabeleland North provincial fire awareness campaign launch at Nyamandlovu Farmers Hall that they have to be on the look out for fires as they destroy the environment. Veld fires destroy the livestock livelihood as all grazing land goes up in flames and smoke sabotaging the countrys ongoing restocking programme. Environmental degradation increases the impact of natural hazards and limits the natural absorptive capacity and resilience of the areas affected, he said. The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management said considering that last year fires affected a total of 161 330 hectares in Matabeleland North, it was important to prevent veld fires. Hwange was the most affected district with 62 508 hectares being lost to veld fires followed by Bubi with 31 819 hectares and Umguza with 17 751 hectares. Year in, year out, we experience serious outbreaks of uncontrolled fires throughout the country causing untold devastation on our biodiversity and ecosystems, he said. Minister Nhema said since most veld fires stem from human activity, it is Zimbabweans who can prevent these uncontrolled fires and protect the countrys heritage. Stopping at good intentions is not enough, we need to start acting now to reduce the destruction of our environmental assets. Let us all do something to prevent and stop uncontrolled fires and work towards a better future for present and future generations, he said. Minister Nhema said the country cannot afford to lose its biodiversity and foreign currency as a result of smoking out bees, careless throwing away of cigarette stubs or unattended fires meant to warm people at bus stops. All these problems are due to human negligence hence the need to reorient our attitude towards fighting veld fires. In this regard I am strongly appealing to local authorities, traditional leaders, chiefs, headmen, kraal heads and all stakeholders involved in local governance to establish and train fire fighting teams in their areas, he said. The minister said traditional leaders were the custodians of the natural resources and had to continue exercising their wisdom and the authority vested in them under the Traditional Leaders Act in safeguarding the natural resources, which are the countrys natural capital. Minister Nhema said it was important that farmers and all villagers construct fireguards around their homes and farms as a precautionary measure. Fireguards are constructed using various methods, you can use a tractor and plough or clear the area by hand or burn which ever is convenient to you, he said. The minister said it was a Government directive that these fireguards should be in place by 31 July every year. My ministry through the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) will be conducting inspections countrywide and serving orders to ensure compliance with regulations pertaining to the construction and maintenance of fireguards, he said.