Zimbabwe — The problem of veld fires in Zimbabwe has reached alarming proportions and as we are in the dry season, it is of paramount importance that everyone plays a role in arresting the situation.
If the situation is not addressed immediately more pasture, forests and lives above all, are going to be lost.
Although fire has for a long time played a positive role in the vegetation structure and composition, as well as helping recycle nutrients contained in old and dead trees, there is concern that the frequency, extent and pattern of burning is increasing to unprecedented levels due to human activities.
Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 in the Environmental Management Act (CAP 20:27) says: No person is allowed to light a fire outside residential and commercial premises during the period 31 July to 31 October of each year.
Despite a law that makes it a punishable offence, people seem not to heed the call.
Statistics show that human beings account for 95% of forest and veld (Savannah) fires across the globe.
In 2002, 350 million hectares of land were burnt worldwide, destroying plantations, crops and pastures.
Veld fires lead to severe environmental degradation, more specifically; veld fires reduce land cover thus exposing the land to agents of accelerated soil erosion, changes in the hydrological cycle, increase in overland flow or surface run off and modifications in various ecological processes.
Soil erosion leads to the siltation of rivers and dams, thus reducing their water-carrying capacity and this is likely to induce floods in low-lying areas. In Zimbabwe, it is now commonly agreed that veld fires are a single significant threat to national economic recovery plans as they are destroying not only pastures necessary for the restocking exercise, but they are also destroying foreign currency generation plantations.
Veld fires are also a threat to national food security as the veld fires sometimes burn wheat farms and maize fields, among other valuables.
When forests are burnt, the ecosystem is disturbed and it all comes to point where other living organisms that are not directly affected by veld fires are affected indirectly.
A typical example is that of the loss of forest food products during the dry season by animals such as monkeys and baboons may result in these animals migrating to other areas or invading agricultural crops.
Henry Madhiri, an environment activist, said the country was losing a lot of revenue through veld fires.
Apart from the forests which are consumed by the fires, sectors such as tourism and agriculture are also affected. Tourism thrives on wild animals and these animals are killed by veld fires and in some cases crops ready for harvest are destroyed, Madhiri said.
There are several factors that cause veld fires, but most are human ignitions resulting from reckless disposal of lit cigarette stubs, smoking out bees for honey harvesting, lighting fires at roads while waiting for early morning buses, land clearing, hunting, arson among other things.
Education and publicity manager for the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Steady Kangata said as long as people had the right attitude, were not negligent and were vigilant, veld fires could be avoided.
It has to do with attitude. Veld fires can be avoided. For example, improper disposal of ashes leads to the burning of bushes.
People should just avoid negligence. We cannot speak of natural causes because it is rare to have them in Zimbabwe.
We are urging the community to be very careful in avoiding the occurrences of veld fires, he said
Forestry Commission deputy general manager Abednego Marufu said the law should take its course and come down heavily on those who caused veld fires because a lot was being done to educate them, but no change was being seen.
We have discovered that after all our efforts to educate people on the dangers of bush fires, nothing is changing, Marufu said.
We are dealing with hardcore offenders who believe that putting bushes on fire is their way of life. Putting such people in jail is the only possible solution.
With the dry season upon us once again, let us make sure we keep our environment safe.
Unnecessary burning of the environment should be avoided as it has devastating effects.