Not too long ago, I bore witness to a tragedy as a haulage truckload of cotton caught fire along the Guruve-Mvurwi road, resulting in not only all of the market-bound cotton turning into ash, but the truck driver losing his life.
BY CHIPO MASARA
This was for me an awakening on the devastating effects of veld fires. So many accidents had preceded that one, and still many followed — all from veld fires — making it hard to believe that veld fires have up to today, been allowed to continue being a problem. In fact, it would seem they are becoming an even bigger problem with each passing year.
While the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) should be credited for embarking on numerous national awareness campaigns to educate people on the dangers of starting veld fires, it would either seem their efforts are not being heeded — at all — or the agency is focusing on wrong methods of tackling this huge problem!
The summer season in Zimbabwe has become synonymous with raging fires, with most areas along the country’s highways becoming a real danger, especially for motorists, as they are left having to negotiate their way — often dangerously —out of harm’s way. At times, the fires leave motorists with no other choice but to make time and fuel-wasting U-turns and look for safer routes. But then they don’t always get to have an option. More often than not, motorists are left with little choice, but to brave up and speed haphazardly through the thick smoke that often engulfs the roads as the veld burns — obstructed from a clear view of oncoming vehicles!
But the danger the fires pose to motorists is just a tip of the iceberg.
One can only imagine the amount of creatures — big and small — that get caught up in the raging fires and are roasted to death. While those that are reported to start the fires in order to catch hare and mice later go to collect their roasted catch, one wonders if they also take notice of lizards, snakes and tortoises, among other creatures, that would have needlessly died from the fire. Or if they pay cognisance to the amount of damage the fires do to the trees, some of which are damaged forever. Or if they are aware of the huge amounts of carbon dioxide that’s deposited into the air; with no green trees to absorb the CO2, the greenhouse gases emitted will not only decrease the quality of the air people in the affected areas breath, but will — more seriously — add to the burden of the climate change scourge. Already, the country is grappling with coming to terms with the catastrophe as its effects can already be felt, especially by the poor and downtrodden.
EMA has been calling on people to stop and help put out veld fires when they come across them. While carrying out such a duty might seem patriotic and deserving of praise, there are many that believe it would be foolhardy to try to put out a raging veld fire without the necessary equipment, or any fire-fighting training. That is why you will find that many people (me included) will either rush through the smoke to swiftly get out of the danger zone, or make a U-turn and find a safer route… and nothing more.
But then we cannot really expect much more from EMA, underfunded as they say they are!
This being a national problem, however, it cannot be left to EMA to deal with on its own. Intervention is needed at government level; before the veld fire season even starts. The Environment ministry, in collaboration with EMA, should be busy with putting in place measures necessary to make the problem go away—or to at least lessen it.
While many in government may not want to hear it, they can take a cue from the white commercial farmers they kicked out of the country. During their time, veld fires were not a problem. It is because all the farmers saw it as mandatory to have proper fireguards on their farms. In addition, their farms were secured and did not allow for easy intrusion.
To protect the citizens from the devastating fires, a law should be enacted that makes it mandatory for all farmers and property holders — especially in areas along highways — to have fireguards. Additionally, the areas should be well-fenced to deter intruders with ulterior motives. Guards should also be stationed in the areas to monitor activity.
As long as Zimbabweans remain poverty-stricken as they currently are, people will always go out of their way and do even the most unimaginable things to feed their families —starting fires to get a few mice being one of them. It is up to EMA and the government to put up real measures that ensure that people’s grinding poverty is not allowed to place the whole country in such danger.