Botswana — Four men have died and one struggling for dear life at Bokamoso Private Hospital as the toll from raging desert fires in Zutshwa in Kgalagadi.
In the current circumstances, there will be no compensation for their dependants and other next of kin. Only the goodwill of state agents involved might bring a measure of relief.
The Principal Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Archibald Ngakayagae, says the men were in a group of five who went to fight the veldt fires that have been raging for more than eleven days now.
They were overcome by the fire on Monday as they tried to run away from their vehicle that was stuck in the sand.They were all airlifted by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and the flying mission to Hukuntsi Hospital the following day.
The fire victims were subsequently brought to Gaborone where four were hospitalised at Bokamoso Private Hospital and one at Princess Marina Hospital.
Three of them died at different times on Wednesday while the fourth died yesterday morning. Ngakayagae says three of the men were government employees while two were volunteers.
Currently, government employees claim overtime pay for contributing to firefighting of the fire while volunteers do not have any compensation. However, volunteers in far-flung settlements like Zutshwa are usually unemployed and have no source of livelihood.
Thus, encountering accidents while volunteering to put out veldt fires is a massive risk that can go uncompensated for them.
Ngakayagae says though volunteers are not rewarded for their efforts, they are at least provided with water and food while engaged.
However, there is no compensation for their families in the event of death.
But Ngakayagae says “in cases like these, the government can assist by transporting the deceased back to their villages. We consult with the families and see how we can help. But it is not something that is guaranteed. There is no compensation for volunteers.”
The government has dispatched counsellors to Zutshwa. “We are providing counselling for the families of the deceased and the everyone who may need it,” Ngakayagae says, adding that other organisations should come forward with assistance.
“There are Social and Community Development departments of local councils and disaster committees who can meet with the ministries to find ways of helping the families,” he says.
Ngakayagae admits that fire-fighting volunteers are often not very knowledgeable about pyrotechnics and safety, but says there are briefing sessions to inform the people how to protect themselves around fires.
Where possible, the BDF and the police provide protective clothing.