USA CHATTANOOGA (Tenn.) The kids at Siskin Children’s Institute, like many other schools, haven’t played outside as much this week.
With smoke in the air, it’s too big a risk, according to Education Coordinator, Julie Mickel.
“If they’re outside playing, they can be affected and adults don’t even realize they’re impacted by it. So we need to take these considerations daily,” she says.
All of Monday and Tuesday morning, children weren’t allowed on the playground at all because of smoke blowing off the mountains affected by wildfires.
Thursday, a welcomed break from the smoke allowed playtime outside, but the concern remained because some of the children with special needs are more susceptible to respiratory problems.
A few of them have a tracheostomy, a hole in the neck to help them breathe.
For them, smoke becomes that much more dangerous.
“With this poor air quality, they are more susceptible to be at risk, so we have to look at the weather for that,” says Mickel.
Some students in classrooms with windows have been moved to the interior, keeping them from breathing in any smoke that might find its way into the building.
Until the wildfires are extinguished and the threat is gone completely, Mickel says they’re finding other ways to keep children moving.
“They can still run and jump and dance, because we still want them to be active,” she says.
Mickel says they’re checking the air quality multiple times a day.
Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion
Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.
Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.
However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.
The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.
People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires, he said.
To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.
In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.
We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them], he warned.
However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.
In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.
We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation, advised the minister.
Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.
This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future, said Oomen.
Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.
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