Wildfires a national concern

Wildfires a national concern

01 August 2013

published by www.newera.com.na

Namibia — Culprits who ignite bush fires should face the full wrath of the law, says John Mutorwa the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.

Addressing the opening of the two-day national conference on bushfires that started in Windhoek on Tuesday, he said the time has come to identify, arrest and punish culprits. He addressed traditional leaders, regional councillors, regional governors and community leaders during the national conference on fire management and mitigation.

Mutorwa urged them to play a prominent and visible role in identifying, arresting and punishing the offenders. ‘‘This year 2013 more than ever before demands from us all to protect our available grazing resources, and to jealously guard against any type of unplanned and reckless burning,’’ stressed the agriculture minister. “Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry spends millions of Namibia dollars every year on measures to prevent wild fires and combat those that do occur. Despite these concerted efforts, the size of the areas affected by wild fires seems to remain the same, and even increases every year. The time has come to concentrate on identifying, arresting and punishing these offenders,” he stressed.

Every year, wild fires destroy approximately five million hectares of grazing land in Namibia.

Indiscriminate fires are probably the second biggest threat to the country’s vegetation, including forests, after illegal logging, he said. He also raised concern that the monitoring work done by the National Remote Sensing Centre in the agriculture ministry has shown that certain areas are subjected to repeated large-scale burning. Even more disconcerting is the fact that these fires occur in more or less the same areas every year, and cover hundreds of thousands of hectares, according to Mutorwa.

A fire that might have been started in order to burn a small area next to a village, or on a farm, if left unattended, can quickly get out of control and grow into a wild fire which crosses large swathes of uninhabited land and threaten the lives, homes, livestock and wildlife of an entire village or farm many kilometres away from where it actually started, he pointed out to illustrate the far-reaching and devastating consequences of wild fires.

Speaking about the economic and financial losses caused by fires, he said not only is it a burden to farmers and community members, but also to the government and the taxpayer. During the current drought, government has through the drought relief programme drilled a number of boreholes in areas where grazing is still available. Mutorwa cautioned that it would not only be a waste of taxpayers’ money, but also a crime against the Namibian people, if government provides water in order to save starving livestock, only to allow wild fires to destroy such grazing. He said this is a clear indication that there is an urgent need to intensify the cooperation of all role players to succeed in reducing the occurrence of uncontrolled wild fires. “This year, more than ever before, demands from us all to protect our available grazing resources, and to jealously guard against any type of unplanned and reckless burning,” he added.

The conference, which took place under the theme ‘Mitigating the effect of Wildfires in Namibia’, ended yesterday.

The conference reflected on the phenomenon of uncontrolled wild fires that burn out of control in many parts of the country, especially during the dry season. It also mapped out a course of action to tackle the threat.

Mutorwa noted that bushfires not only ravage vegetation, but they also endanger human lives and property. Hailwa Joseph, the Director of Forestry said the most common fire in the country is caused by people such as hunters who start fires to flush out game, and children who are ignorant about the impact of bushfires.

In Namibia, outbreaks of wild fires are usually concentrated in the Caprivi, Kavango, Otjozondjupa and Omaheke regions. These regions should therefore receive special attention when devising interventions for forest and veld fire management. Many people lack sufficient knowledge about using fire as a management tool, resulting in wrong burning times during the late dry season, when a large biomass of dead material exists.

Hailwa said the loss of natural resources through fire is detrimental to both local and national economies and has a global impact through the release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a reduction in vegetation.

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