Statistics suggest that wildfires constitute up to 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, with nearly half of the damage emanating from Southern Africa.In Southern Africa alone, approximately 170 million hectares of forests and grasslands are burnt each year and Zimbabwe is not spared from the problem, a report by local experts reveals.
By Kennedy Nyavaya
An average 1,5 million hectares is burnt locally and in the process producing over 30 million tonnes of emissions, which is about 7% of the country’s emissions per year.
These grim figures depict the deplorable multifaceted impact of fires, which are a threat to the biophysical, social and economic environment.
This makes efforts to prevent fires or reduce their damage everyone’s responsibility according to African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) Zimbabwe representative Rufaro Matsika.
“It is everyone’s duty to manage the environment in a sustainable manner and as we approach the dry season we should all take responsibility and prevent veld fire outbreaks,” says Matsika.
In May, AYICCZim collaborated with FireFight Trust, a local initiative to create awareness on wildfires as well as their management, in hosting a national fire week event in Harare.
At the event, various stakeholders participated in activities including litter picking, flier distribution, motorist awareness raising and grass cutting along the Arcturus road.
“This was a small exercise to create awareness and also teach our present stakeholders on the importance of keeping our surroundings clean,” said FireFight director Wilson Chimwedzi.
“As Fire Fight we have our own advice to the effect that housekeeping is very critical because we cannot live in dirty surroundings. That is why we encourage the maintenance of our environment by doing activities like cutting grass and picking up litter that could act as fuel for destructive wildfires.”
The event served as a precursor to the national fire season that starts on July 31 to October 31, a period where most wildfires are recorded.
With about 3,6 million tonnes of cereal harvest expected this year in addition to high vegetation owing to heavy rains in last agricultural season, strict efforts are needed to avert wanton fires in urban and rural areas.
“This is one of the actions that are happening across the world because apart from the destruction we can see physically, fires cause carbon emission as the smoke ascends into the atmosphere and in turn cause global warming,” said AYICC-Zim national coordinator Jean-Betrand Mhandu.
Wildfires result in loss of livelihoods and income as well as psychosocial effects associated with fatalities and family bereavement, loss of biodiversity and disturbance of the hydrological balance.
The dry and cold winters, experienced in Zimbabwe, combined with abundant grass fuels and ready sources of ignition (both lightning and humans) ensure that fires are a regular feature of savanna landscapes.
A 2011 report by the Environmental Management Agency showed that 60% of all local fires occur within 500m from major roads, largely as a result of carelessness such as throwing out lit cigarettes.
This is an urgent cause for concern and calls for active participation from members of the society.
“It is the duty of every Zimbabwean to act in preventing fires as well as report environmental crimes such as starting veld fires, because of the negative impact this has on communities,” added Matsika.