Veld fires can be avoided

HARARE - The period from July 31 right up to the end of October rank as some of the driest in Zimbabwe and  — befittingly has been named the fire season by environmentalists.

The major reason for naming it thus was to increase awareness on the importance of taking precautions whenever someone has to light a fire for whatever reason.

Veld fires have in the past led to not only the destruction of the environment as well as property but sadly has also led to the loss of lives in some instances.

Veld fires cause extensive environmental degradation through the reduction of land cover, thus exposing the land to accelerated soil erosion. Surface run-off increases where there is no grass and vegetation cover. Once this happens, the siltation of rivers and other water bodies like dams is heightened thus reducing their water carrying capacity.

Whereas the siltation of the canals in the Nyanyadzi Irrigation Scheme, Chimaninmani in Manicaland Province may not have been caused directly by veld fires, human settlements and poor cultivation methods upstream of the Odzi River, remains a case in point where people’s livelihoods were threatened by the dysfunctional infrastructure as farmers at one point could no longer irrigate their crops.

In instances of heavy downpours, low-lying areas are exposed to flooding because of silted rivers and dams.

Veld fires lead to the destruction of plantations, unharvested crops as well as pastures, threatening restocking efforts. Plantations are foreign currency earners, meaning that potential is lost when plantations fall victim of veld fires.

Food security is severely threatened when the maize staple and wheat are destroyed in veld fires.

Perhaps one of the worst would be the loss of human life resulting from wanton burning of vegetation as people try to clear land for cultivation. More often, the victims are toddlers between the ages of two and five as well as those over 70 years of age who find it difficult to timeously move to safety when fires break out.

All Zimbabwean citizens and institutions have a role to play in the fight against veld fires, first by ensuring that every fire is reported, which will give room to concerted efforts in controlling it while minimising the danger it could pose.

Collective efforts are paramount if a fire breaks out because trying to douse flames individually could turn out to be fatal.

Veld fires can result from other unlikely activities besides the clearing of land. The smoking public should guard against throwing cigarette buts into the grass since they can be an unlikely source of uncontrollable fires.

People who wait for early morning buses by the roadsides often light fires which they do not put off when the buses come. These could also be blown into the nearby grass, burning large tracts of veld.

Hunters who may want to smoke out bees to collect honey have also been cited as causing veld fires, hence the practice has to be discouraged at all costs.

However, farmers can also do a lot in order to protect their land from veld fires. Standard fireguards on farm boundaries, measuring at least nine metres wide, is one way of reducing the risk of veld fires spreading further if they are started in neighbouring farms.

As an extra measure, farmers should establish properly trained and equipped fire-fighting teams with the capacity to extinguish veld fires.

There is a lot that traditional leaders could also do in areas under their jurisdiction to help in the fight against veld fires.

They should embark on awareness campaigns to educate their people on the dangers of veld fires as well as mitigation measures.

Any of their people found to have started fires should be dealt with severely at that level to deter would-be offenders.

It must be known that veld fires are destructive and cost the environment dearly and as a result the fiscus when they can be avoided thus placing the burden on government to ensure all statutory instruments are activated to deal with cases of veld fires.

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