EMA ropes in chiefs to help fight fires

via EMA ropes in chiefs to help fight fires. 17 July 2015 by Brenna Matendere

The Environmental Management Agency has roped in traditional leaders to assist in reducing the devastating disasters caused by veld fires. The development follows an increase in the number of fires in recent years, with property worth millions of dollars and lives having been unnecessarily lost during the dry seasons.

In 2014, there was an increase in the area burnt nationwide through veld fires from 1 179 274 hectares in 2013 to nearly 1 700 000 – destroying precious property, forests and wildlife as well as the lives of 12 people.

In recent years, Midlands alone has had numerous fire disasters, with a total of 63 people perishing since 2009. The worst case was recorded in 2010 where 25 people died and 1,15 million hectares of vegetation was destroyed. During that year, a sad case was witnessed in Debshen Farm in Somabhula when a 13-year-old herd boy was trapped in a veld fire with his cattle and died.

The incident also saw the fire spreading into Insiza district where 35 elephants were burnt to ashes in a conservancy and six houses destroyed. In addition, one family lost three lives last year – two siblings and their mother, in the Chiwadza area of Chirumanzu .

In an exclusive interview with The Zimbabwean at the launch of this year’s fire season at Mafungabusi Forest in the southern district of Gokwe last week, Timothy Nyoka, the EMA spokesperson, said traditional leaders have now been roped in to implement measures that will reduce these disasters.

Generate income

“The fire season starts on July 31 and ends on October 31 and so we have held our launch early in order to act on preventive measures. This year the target is on traditional leaders who live in rural communities where the majority of culprits live.

“We are sensitising them on the need to stamp hard on culprits and bring them to book while also capacitating them with knowledge on preventive measures that they should pass to their subjects,” said Nyoka.

He added that so far communities had been capacitated with a diverse range of innovative and lucrative fire prevention tactics that should significantly reduce disasters this year.

“Other than construction of fire guards, we have been reaching out to communities through the traditional leaders on ways that prevent fire cases which can generate income for the villagers. These include hay-baling which reduces dry grass in forest areas while also giving income to villagers if they sell the hay bales.

Bee-keeping is another way that prevents veld fires because the villagers would jealously guard the forest. Gathering of thatching grass and sweeping brooms is another tactic we have been suggesting to villagers. This can reduce fire incidences while also creating income for them. These ways will significantly reduce fire incidences this year if all embrace them,” he said.

This year’s fire season campaign runs under the theme: Veld fire prevention – my responsibility.