Crime Reporter
The country has recorded a total of 298 fire incidences and lost 165 352, 94 hectares to veld fires since the onset of the 2020 fire season on July 31, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has said.

During the same period last year, 1 050 veld fire incidences were recorded while 315 763, 08ha of prime land was destroyed.

EMA said veld fires remain a major driver of land degradation in Zimbabwe, with the country losing over one million hectares of valuable land each year.
The fire season stretches from July 31 up to October 31 each year.

“During this period, the risk of runaway fires is high due to the availability of dry biomass, heat and wind, which are the necessary conditions for the spread of veld fires; and only ending on the onset of the rainy season. However, with climate change at hand, characterised with shifts in seasons, the country now records veld fire incidences before the onset, and after the end of the fire season.

“Already the country has recorded a total of 298 fire incidences and lost 165 352, 94ha to veld fires before the commencement of the fire season on the 31st of July 2020. Mashonaland West lost most land with over 80 171, 75ha, followed by Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Mashonaland Central with 25 962, 96 ha, 23 741, 22ha and 13 039, 7ha respectively. Over 80 percent of the veld fires recorded were as a result of early burning by property owners in preparation for the fire season and about 20 percent was associated with negligence in handling fire during a time when the veld is susceptible to veld fires,” EMA said in a statement.

The agency said the country was targeting a 25 percent reduction in land lost to veld fires this season and were working in collaboration with several stakeholders, implementing several interventions towards community fire preparedness for the 2020 fire season.
“The agency issued 702 Environmental Protection orders to farmers and communities as a reminder for them to put in place fire prevention measures for their properties. This has been supported by implementation of pre-suppression measures built on biomass reduction community projects in hay baling and thatch grass combing.

“So far from these initiatives, 125 207 hay bales have been harvested protecting 9 018ha while 36 955 thatch grass bundles have been harvested protecting 702, 5ha of valuable land. This approach has received much uptake from communities as they are able to realize a livelihood from their locally available natural resources after selling hay bales and thatch grass; at the same time protecting the environment. Land owners across the country have been able to construct a cumulative fireguard stretch of 4 905, 8km protecting 110 004, 3ha in the process.”

The Agency supported communities in fire prone areas of Mashonaland West with tractors to assist in biomass reduction. EMA in collaboration with UNDP under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has 6 projects, supported fire suppression initiatives in Mbire and Muzarambani in Mashonaland Central as well as Hurungwe and Makonde in Mashonaland West province.

EMA said, as the country goes into the 2020 fire season, they are urging the public not to start any fires outside their households during the fire season, as it was a punishable offence.

Citizens were also encouraged to report fire incidents and fire offenders to local traditional leaders, EMA, Forestry Commission and ZRP, as failure to do so within seven days, was again a punishable offence.

“The Agency will remain on high alert to communicate fire incidents as they occur, detected using near real time fire monitoring from the National Fire Earth station located at EMA head office, to affected communities through their fire committees and community leaders to enable communities to put out the fires before they cause much damage and allow for investigations to take place in time. It is the responsibility of every citizen to prevent veld fires and sustain biodiversity, play your part this fire season. Let us all join hands in the fight against the veld fire scourge, which has destroyed the environment, life and property in the past decade.”