Zimbabwe — ENVIRONMENTAL problems and challenges require strong regulations to ensure sustainable environmental management and protection.
One of the environmental challenges which this country has faced in recent years is the prevalence of uncontrolled veld fires. The environmental and socio-economic costs associated with veld fires have significantly affected the economic growth potential of this country.
It is therefore important for all stakeholders and members of the public to be aware of the legislative provisions with regards to veld fire management and control. The Environmental Management Agency firmly believes that a knowledgeable society with regards to veld fires statutory provisions will go a long way in empowering people and other stakeholders in adopting necessary corrective measures that are essential in ensuring negative impacts associated with veld fires are minimised and where possible avoided.
What are the provisions of the law? Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 on Environmental Impact Assessments and Ecosystems Protection regulations govern veld fire management in the country. The regulations compels users, owners and occupiers of given pieces of land to have pre-suppression, suppression and post-suppression measures to be in place in order to curb veld fires.
Pre-suppression measures These are measures that that are put in place before the start of the fire season in order to avoid and curb veld fires. Any person or authority shall put in place boundary standard fireguards that are at least 9m wide and at least 4,5m for internal fireguards and kept clear of any flammable material.
No person shall deliberately cause fire that he cannot extinguish which causes damage to the environment, property, or life. No person shall light a fire outside residential and commercial premises during the period 1 July to 31 October of each year (period when the grass is dry up to the onset of the rainy season).
Suppression measures These are measures, which have to be undertaken when there is a fire outbreak in order to reduce environmental damage, property and human loss. All people are responsible for extinguishing all fires on their property regardless of origin of the fire. In case of a fire outbreak any person within the vicinity of the fire other than the user or the owner of that land shall carefully and properly extinguish the fire.
Post-suppression measures These are measures, which must be undertaken after a fire outbreak. After a fire outbreak an investigation and documentation of the cause of fire and the extent of the damage to the environment, property or loss of life shall be undertaken within a period of seven days from the day of occurrence of that fire.
The land user, landowner, designated authority, village head, chief, ward councillor or local authority shall carry out an investigation relating to a fire outbreak. Upon completion of the investigation, a report should be made to the nearest EMA office and the Zimbabwe Republic Police within a period of seven days stating the date of the fire, cause of fire, extent of damage measured in terms of hectares, property and injury or loss of life.
Veld fire related offences (a) Leaving a fire unattended you deliberately started. (b) Lighting or assisting in lighting or adding fuel to a fire which spreads or causes injury and damage to property. (c) Deliberately failing to extinguish a fire on one’s property. (d) Failure to have standard fireguards. (e) Failure to report a fire. (f) Failure to stop and assist in putting out a fire.
Anyone found guilty of any of the stated offences is liable to a fine not exceeding level 14 (US$5 000) per hectare to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Do traditional leaders play any role in fire management? Traditional leaders are empowered under the Traditional Leaders Act to apprehend and prosecute environmental law offenders including those that breach veld fires regulations.
Fines imposed by traditional leaders are legal and should be upheld. A total of 537 traditional leaders have been trained by EMA and are mandated by their laws to preside over environmental offences. The environment remains everyone’s business, which calls for all of us to work together and avoid veld fires so that we maintain the integrity of our environment.