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Put an end to veld fires

The veld fire problem, which is clearly getting worse with each dry season in Zimbabwe, is no longer a matter that can be ignored, as it has reached epidemic proportions.

Environment with Chipo Masara

The period between the beginning of August and end of October has become a “burning” period for Zimbabwe, characterised by a forest burning somewhere every single day.

While it is very possible some of these fires may be occurring naturally, with some ecosystems actually relying on these naturally-occurring fires to regulate their growth, the bulk of the fires that are ravaging the country’s once-rich forests are started off by some people that have selfish motives.

Although the main problem authorities are facing in their attempts to handle the problematic fires is not having any clue on who or what may have triggered the blazes, I am willing to bet that 95% of them are man-made.

Going to Guruve recently, an area located on the northern side of the country, the journey turned out to be quite a dangerous expedition.

We encountered a raging fire a few kilometres from Mazowe, which almost had us colliding with an oncoming truck as we attempted to evade the threatening flames, which intruded onto our side of the road.

The heavy smoke badly affected our visibility.

Two years ago, along the same road, I saw a heavy truck that was transporting cotton from Mbire District, catch fire and burn down!

Considering how life-threatening the veld fires have proven to be, the burning has continued, and it is now worse than ever before!

The law in Zimbabwe is clear pertaining to veld fires. “No person is allowed to light a fire outside residential and commercial premises during the period July 31 to October 31 of each year,” states Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 in the Environment Management Act (CAP 20:27).

The Environment Management Agency (EMA), the body tasked with the country’s environmental protection, has had its hands full making their efforts to curb the veld fire culture that has permeated the country.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management has also been making a lot of noise, condemning the fires. But since all that has so far not helped make the problem go away, maybe it is time that authorities looked to better, more effective solutions.

While the bulk of those living in commercial and communal lands, are only focussed on the number of mice they will catch after starting the fires, the problem they are creating is so huge it will take years to go away. First of all, the veld fire emissions contain fine particulate matter which can cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems; so unknown to many, the fires they are starting every day could send them to their graves quite early.

Unfortunately, it is not only the perpetrators that suffer the consequences, as those around them, innocent children included, also do.

A healthy balanced biodiversity is not only good for the flora and fauna that flourish; it is also good for human beings. When something damages an area’s biodiversity, it directly has a negative bearing on the people’s wellbeing.

Veld fires are causing unprecedented damage to the country’s biodiversity, rendering many efforts to restore it, useless. For instance, the extensive efforts by organisations like the Forestry Commission to replant trees and restore the country’s depleted forests are coming to naught as most of the newly planted trees are soon wiped out by the raging fires.

But then this does everyone a disservice.

Besides being a serious threat to the collection of diverse species, the fires are producing large amounts of carbon dioxide, a gas that plays a major role in exacerbating global warming and climate change.

Satellite observation has shown that smoke plumes from wildfires can affect climate and weather and can have major impacts on atmospheric pollution. Some scientists project that by 2020, climate change will result in up to 250 million people worldwide being exposed to increased water stress; a 50% reduction in rain-fed agriculture yields, severely compromising access to food.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries that have already started to experience long, intense heat waves and erratic rainfall patterns, which have affected agriculture production, in what many now believe to be initial signs of climate change.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WWF) estimates that 2,2 million Zimbabweans might require food aid next year.

Veld fires only serve to create more problems for the country that already has enough troubles to deal with. The fires need to be stopped, by all means necessary.

For feedback, email: cmasara@standard.co.zw

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