The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has announced that Zimbabwe is on a medium to high risk of fire amid revelations that the fire season has also been extended owing to climate change.
Communities have since been encouraged to be cautious and have sound fire management plans and strategies in the areas that are likely to be affected.
The agency’s Environmental Education and Publicity Manager Mrs Amukela Sidange said the alert meant that communities had to be vigilant and avoid creating conditions favourable for the outbreak of veld fires.
“The fire risk prediction has revealed that the greater part of the country is in the medium to high risk as indicated in the 2022 veld fire risk prediction. The prediction calls for tight fire management plans and strategies in the areas at medium, high and extreme fire risk. The failure to manage biomass abundant in these areas creates a favourable condition for veld fires during the fire restriction period,” she said.
Mrs Sidange said the 2022 veld fire season which started on 31 July will end on 30 November 2022, following a public notice published in the Government Gazette of 17 June 2022 by the Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry.
“In previous years, the veld fire season ended on 30 October, but this year it’s ending on 30 November. This decision was informed by changes in climate and rainfall patterns following numerous fire incidences and losses that were recorded outside the statutory fire season in the previous years,” she said.
The Agency announced that a variety of approaches and strategies have been employed to raise awareness, and reduce fuel load in an effort to manage veld fires, with a total of 531 education and awareness activities having been done across the country targeting communities at risk.
“Such activities include demonstrations, community meetings and training; and distribution of literature and media programmes all with a thrust to sustainably capacitate grassroots structures on veld fire management. A cumulative of 11 066.8 kilometres of fireguards have been constructed to date protecting an estimated 1 393 092.5 hectares of land. As a biomass reduction strategy while also generating income, a total of 148 599 hay bales have been done while 385 638 grass bundles have been harvested. A stretch of 1 727.6 km of road servitude has been cleared to prevent road side fires while 1 721 fire orders have been issued to property owners to put in place fire management measures,” said Mrs Sidange.
The Agency working with stakeholders such as AGRITEX, Forestry Commission, Local Authorities and Traditional leadership have further supported the establishment of model anti fire villages across the country as demonstration sites for effective fire management.
The programme is being implemented in hotspot villages as a pilot project and involves concentration of various activities in the selected villages with strong focus on up-scaling indigenous fire management strategies and resuscitating indigenous knowledge systems in veld fire prevention.
Mrs Sidange said activities carried out include provision of firefighting equipment, strengthening local communication systems and local firefighting structures, awareness and training, grass cutting, hay baling, fire guard construction and the establishment of ashpits at household level for proper ash disposal, among other interventions.
Since the onset of the fire season, EMA said a total of 489 fire incidents that burnt 130 954 hectares have been recorded. The majority of fires recorded were as a result of failure to contain early burning by stakeholders in preparation for the fire season and general negligence when handling fires.
“It’s unfortunate that two destructive fires were recorded during the week ending 12 August, 2022, burning down lodges in Gweru (Eland Lodge) and Plumtree (Kombani Lodge). Property destroyed at the Gweru lodge alone included 8 cottages and a conference room with an estimated net worth of over US$450 000 while yet to be confirmed substantial losses were recorded at Kombani Lodge. However, no lives have been lost so far since the onset of the fire season,” said Mrs Sidange.