Zimbabwe — GOVERNMENT is working on amending the Forestry Act to include sections which impose mandatory sentences for people who start veld fires. This was revealed by Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri at a Press conference in Harare on Tuesday. Veld fires killed 72 people in the past five years.
A million hectares are burnt each year.
Minister Muchinguri said a budget of $200 000 had been set aside for fire prevention measures and outreach programmes for this season.
She said a comprehensive plan of action was required for the prevention of veld fires starting with arrests of all perpetrators.
“Our records show that environmental crimes have been trivialised and very few custodial sentences have been given out despite the fact that 72 deaths have been recorded to date,” she said.
“I have started a process towards the amendment of the relevant Forestry Act to ensure that mandatory sentences are effected.
“Our legislation is clear on what is expected of every Zimbabwean. The Forestry Act (Chapter 19:05) and Statutory 7 of 2007 (Environmental Impact Assessments and Ecosystems Protection Regulations) say it is the duty of every land user, owner or designated authority to put in place appropriate fire prevention measures to protect their land.”
The fire season in Zimbabwe starts on July 31 each year and ends on October 31, a period characterised by dry vegetation, hot and windy conditions that are conducive for veld fire outbreaks.
Minister Muchinguri urged the public to put in place mitigatory measures in case of veld fires and for the police to enforce the laws and apprehend culprits.
“I urge all farmers, land users and owners to ensure that your farms and properties are protected by standard fire guards which are at least nine metres wide on either side of the boundary and must be free of flammable material,” she said.
Minister Muchinguri said a national fire committee comprising 10 Government ministries and different stakeholders had been set up.
Stakeholders would come up with different plans of action to be approved by the National Fire Committee.