Namibia — THE Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, says the time has come to identify, arrest and punish culprits who start veld fires.
He made the call to traditional authorities, regional councillors, governors and community leaders on Tuesday, during the opening of a two-day national conference on fire management and mitigation in the capital.
“Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry spends millions of Namibia dollar every year on measures to prevent wild fires and to 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 increase, every year. The time has come to concentrate on identifying, arresting and punishing these offenders,” he stressed.
Every year, approximately five million hectares of grazing land in Namibia is negatively affected by wild fires. Repeated hot fires are probably the second biggest threat to the country’s vegetation, including forests, after illegal logging, according to Mutorwa.
He raised the concern that monitoring work done by the National Remote Sensing Centre in the MAWF has shown that certain areas are subjected to repeated large scale burning. Worryingly, these fires occur in more or less the same areas every year, and cover hundreds of thousands of hectares.
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 uninhabited areas and threatens the lives, houses, livestock and wildlife of a whole village or farm many kilometres away from where it actually started.
Speaking about the economic and financial losses caused by fires, Mutorwa said not only is it a burden to farmers and community members, but also to 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 co-operation of all role players to succeed in reducing the occurrence of uncontrolled wild fires in Namibia.
“This year, more than ever before, demands from us all to protect our available grazing resources, and jealously guard against any type of unplanned and reckless burning,” he added.
The conference took place under the theme ‘Mitigating the effect of Wildfires in Namibia’.