Zimbabwe — IT is everyone’s duty to manage the environment in a sustainable manner and as we approach the dry season let’s all take responsibility and prevent veld fire outbreaks. It is the duty of every Zimbabwean to report environmental crimes such as starting veld fires, because of the negative impact this has on communities.
EMA upholds stakeholder participation and works with traditional leaders, churches, schools and the community at large in order to have a clean, safe and healthy environment.
The 2011 fire season recorded a 38 percent reduction in fire incidences compared with the year 2010.
A total of 713 770 hectares of land was burnt by veld fires in the season while 1 152 413 hectares were burnt in the 2010 fire season, giving a difference of 438 643 hectares.
Similarly, fewer lives (5) were lost in the current year compared to 25 lives lost in the 2010-fire season.
All the deaths were due to attempts to put out fires. The victims included a 37-year-old man, a five-year-old boy, a 70-year-old woman, a 63-year-old man and a 99-year-old woman.
In 2011 a total of 30 national fire week launches and 279 fire awareness meetings were held.
Additional strategies included the pilot fireguard project in 15 districts where fireguards with a cumulative stretch of 615km were constructed.
Intensive law enforcement resulted in the issuing of 240 tickets, 78 dockets were opened with a total of 24 cases receiving final judgement.
Traditional courts handled 23 cases of veld fires. The most severe judgments were six months’ imprisonment from court proceedings and a beast from the traditional cases.
What were the causes of these fire incidences?
The 2011 fire season saw a reduction in area lost to fires. All provinces with the exception of Matabeleland North and Midlands recorded a decline in fires in the 2011 fire season.
The major causes of fires in the two provinces were failure to contain fires during fireguard construction and land clearing.
The decrease in fires for the rest of the country can be attributed to stricter law enforcement, EMA’s collaboration with ZRP and involvement of community leadership in veldt fire issues including the engagement of resource monitors who reported a total of 150 fire incidences through cell phone messages.
Serious efforts were made towards building the capacity of local authorities in environmental sub-committees establishment and operationalisation.
A total of 2 786 environment committees and sub-committee members were trained in fire management.
Veld fire incidences in protected areas
About 80 percent of the fires occurred in A1, A2 model areas, communal areas and resettlement areas.
Of the 2,6 million hectares of land in protected areas, it is worth noting that 400 000ha equivalent to 90 percent in the Dande Safari Area in Mbire district was burnt.
Most of the protected areas around the country did not experience severe veldt fires since they had fireguards in place.
Fires and Road Network
Most of the fires occurred along major roads as 60 percent of all the fires occurred within 500m from the major roads.
Causes of roadside fires were noted to include bus stop fires, cigarette stubs and burning of road servitude.
Research conducted in Mashonaland Central indicated that no one took ownership of roadside fires hence the fires were left unattended.
Generally, the trend was that for any fires that were started in the communal and resettlement areas, communities were involved in putting out the fires.
The Agency in 2011 implemented 15 standard fireguard construction demonstration projects in 15 districts country wide.
The fire demonstration projects have constructed fireguards with a total length of 615km.
The fireguards constructed on the demonstration sites stopped 16 fire incidences.
These fireguards were constructed using various methods such as controlled burning, ploughing and slashing.
The 15 fireguard demonstration sites were replicated by 1 504 households. In the 2011 fire season there was a marked decrease of fire incidences and hectarage lost in the project areas.
There was a 52 percent reduction of fire incidences in the project demonstration areas compared to the 2010 fire season.
The reduction is mainly due to the change in behaviour of people by not starting fires, reporting fires and arresting those that start fires.
Community ownership of the projects also went a long way in ensuring that there were no fires lit in the project areas.
Fire-related prosecutions increased by 62 percent as enforcement of fire legislation intensified in 2011.
Tickets for starting fires during the fire season increased by 800 percent from 30 tickets in 2010 to 240 tickets in 2011.
Enforcement coupled with environmental education was remarkable resulting in a sharp decrease in deaths and veldt fire casualties. In 2011, five lives were lost to fires compared to 25 lives that were lost in 2010.
Recommendations following the 2011 fire season experience
There is need for the corporate sector to assist farmers with more firefighting equipment such as fire beaters and knapsack sprayers.
Traditional leaders and police should continue taking a leading role in veldt fire issues and law enforcement.
Stakeholder involvement needs to be heightened. The local authorities, environment committees and environment sub-committees should be encouraged to continue managing fires. Biomass on road servitudes has to be cleared to avoid roadside fires.