National Fire Week: Zim needs more than US$6m for veld fire management

Sifelani Tsiko

Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor

Zimbabwe requires more than US$6 million to support veld fire protection and suppression activities throughout the country, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) says in its latest fire report.

In the 2021 veld fire report, Aaron Chigona, director general of EMA, said the country now required additional resources to manage wildfires that were now getting larger and causing more damage.

“Fire management is a costly exercise that requires funding to the tune of over US$6 million for effective capacitation of communities and fire-fighting structures,” he said.

Large swatches of fire destroyed property worth US$370 837 and led to the death of eight people during last year’s fire season.

Runaway fires also destroyed 1 million hectares of land last year compared to 2020 when 806 000 ha was destroyed.

“Fire monitoring revealed that 3 948 fire incidents were recorded burning 1 033 722.86 ha of land during the fire season. The average area burnt from the 3 948 fire incidences in 2021 is 261.83 ha while the NDS1 baseline average area burnt from 1 508 fire incidences was 768.09 ha,” according to the EMA veld fire report for 2021.

Above-average rains in the 2021 -2022 cropping season have increased the risk of veld fires in the country with the presence of a huge biomass that stoke the fires.

This has led to a high fire risk of 65,2 percent and extreme fire risk of 24.7 percent of the country respectively.

Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Manicaland were at extreme risk while Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Midlands and Masvingo were at high risk to veld fires.

Zimbabwe has seen several devastating fires that have threatened lives, property, the natural environment, crops, livestock and game across the country.

Veld fires have caused property damage, reduced soil fertility, destruction of vegetation, air and water pollution and destruction of wildlife.

Most veld fires are a result of human actions that emanate from the disposal of cigarettes, the burning of vegetation when preparing fields, the use of fire by hunters, smoking out bees and the making of fires by motorists along highways.

Trees, species of wildlife, farming land, livestock, human lives and livelihoods suffer under the severe threat posed by veld fires.

Most of the fires are being extinguished and fought by unpaid volunteers, going with their own teams at their own cost to save property and lives of people close to areas from where they reside.

Most rural communities lack firefighting hand tools such as shovel, axe, rake or pulaski to extinguish fires.

The country also requires more people and equipment, such as engines, pumps, bulldozers, helicopters, air tankers and drones for fire management.

EMA said it had established strategic collaborations with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement and the Ministry of Environment, Climate Tourism and Hospitality Industry to scale up fire management activities in the country.

Zimbabwe needs more resources to liaise, advise, inform, coordinate, capacitate and engage with all stakeholders pertaining to integrated wildfire management.

Fire suppression efforts remain largely uncoordinated making fire suppression operations extremely difficult.

EMA wants additional resources to be made available through disaster management structures to assist with the containment of the active wildfires.

Wildfire threat and protection costs are likely to rise because of climate change and continued human activities.

A total of 889 tickets were issued in 2021 compared to 56 in 2020. An average of 1 million hectares have been burnt annually between 2010 and 2020 in Zimbabwe, according to EMA.

Government is working on new legislation to govern the fire season in light of climate change and climate variabilities.

Every year, in the second week of May, Zimbabwe holds a National Fire Week event to raise awareness among communities on the importance of preventing veld fires through pre-fire suppression measures such as fireguard construction, biomass reduction and early controlled burning.

There are 10 SADC countries which rank among the highest countries that experience catastrophic wildfires and emissions globally.

Angola was ranked second, DRC (3), Zambia (4), Mozambique (5), Tanzania (8), Botswana (17), Madagascar (19), Namibia (23), South Africa (24) and Zimbabwe (30), according to the 2002 – 2019 World Fire Stats report.

Experts say Zimbabwe and other SADC countries need to train more wildland firefighters to help combat wildfires and strengthen mechanisms to curb catastrophic fires which are destroying and polluting the region’s environment.

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