Zimbabwe–– Over the years, Zimbabwe has continued to lose property worth thousands of dollars to veld fires.
The environment has also suffered while animals and humans have been affected by the destruction of pastures and habitats. Experts say the authorities should this year take urgent steps to stop the fires, which are usually prevalent at the end of winter. This period is prone to veld fires largely because of widespread land clearing.
Mr Charles Mutemereri, an environmentalist, says veld fires do not only consume the environment but could also wreck an economy. Apart from the forests which are chewed by the fires, sectors such as tourism and agriculture are also affected, he said. Tourism thrives on wild animals and these animals are killed by veld fires and, in some cases, crops that will be ready for harvesting are destroyed.
The Environmental Management Agency (Ema) says about 714 000 hectares of land were destroyed by veld fires last year alone. According to the Ema 2011 Fire Report, newly resettled farmers contributed to the spread of the fires in some parts of the country, resulting in the destruction of 1 694,3 hectares of timber in Manicaland.
On the other hand, statistics released by the Timber Producers Federation (TPF) cited Chimanimani and Nyanga as the worst affected districts. The statistics show that between July and November last year, 257 forest fires were reported and destroyed 9 586 hectares of timber constituting 12 percent of Zimbabwes pine population.
Pine is grown on a 25-year rotation. The affected area was equivalent to what would normally be harvested over a three-year period. Hunters and human negligence are among the foremost causes of veld fires, which endanger human and animal life as well as soil structure. Five people died in such fires last year while 25 others died in 2010.
Ema says education and publicity on the effects of veld fires on the countrys ecosystem are proving to be effective tools in the fight against the fires. So far all provinces, except Matabeleland North and the Midlands, recorded a decline in veld fires. Additional strategies included a pilot fireguard project in 15 districts. Ema has also launched 30 national fire weeks and held 279 fire awareness meetings.
Intensive law enforcement resulted in the issuing of 240 tickets with a fine assessment of US$37 539. The 2011 fire season overall had a reduction in area lost to fire. All provinces with the exception of Matabeleland North and the Midlands recorded a decline in fires in the 2011 fire season, reads part of the report. The causes of fires in the two provinces were failure to contain fireguard construction and land clearing. The decrease in fires for the rest of the country can be attributed to stricter law enforcement, collaboration with the police and the involvement of community leadership in veld fire issues, including the engagement of resource monitors who reported through cellular phone messages a total of 150 fire incidences.
The year 2010 recorded a 21,2 percent increase in the total area burnt than the previous years. The same year also recorded the highest percentage since 2004 with 1 152 413 hectare of land burnt, exceeding the forecast of the risk model, which predicted that only 16,4 percent (equivalent to 6 401 030 hectares) of the country was in the extreme fire risk area.
In 2009, a total number of 950 905 hectares were destroyed and 10 lives lost. Veld fires are mainly caused by farmers using fire to open new arable land, deliberate lighting of fire (arson), smoking out bees, sparks from moving steam engines, careless throwing away of lit cigarette stubs, hunting and careless disposal of hot ash. The long-term effects of veld fires are a reduction of bio-diversity through destruction of flora and fauna, reduction of soil fertility, an increased erosion rate and decreased infiltration, which lead to less water for livestock, irrigation, fish, wildlife and people.
A number of fire outbreaks have already been recorded this season alone with one farmer in Mashonaland Central losing a combine harvester, farm equipment and tonnes of maize.
Launching the 2012 National Fire Week recently, Environment and Natural Resources Management Minister Francis Nhema said it was unfortunate that environmental degradation has weakened the natural resource base on which human activity ultimately depends. The countrys (economic) turnaround strategy is rooted in our natural resources. Unfortunately, this natural capital is under threat from veld fires, hence, my plea to all to fight this monster, said Minister Nhema.
According to the minister, at least 1 152 413 hectares of land were affected by veld fires countrywide in 2010. Of this land, 2 907,7 hectares covered plantations. Mr Nhema also noted that infrastructure worth over US$227 214 was gutted. He said chiefs would prosecute individuals who cause fires, many of which are threatening the ongoing national cattle restocking programme. Systematic ecological and localised environmental degradation is becoming highly prominent as a result of uncontrolled fires. This lowers the natural resilience of ecosystems to disaster impact and delays recovery, said the minister.