Veld fires a real threat to the environment

Veld fires a real threat to the environment
February 23 15:09 2022
By Gamuchirai Tsokota

“As I approached the farm, I was welcomed by the crackling sound of fire, smoke engulfed the whole sky. The fire was intense and the smoke choking but we had limited options, we had to do everything we could to extinguish the fire before it reached our side.

I had received a call for help from the nearby farm early in the morning so I rushed to assist. Sadly this fire started by night hunters had destroyed over 70 hectares and threatening to destroy more.”

Zimbabwe has recorded an 85% increase in veld fire incidences in the 2021 fire season.

The veld fires destroyed a total of 408 366.7 of land representing an 84.7 % increase compared to the same period in 2020 when the fire destroyed 220 778.79 hectares, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has reported.

Furthermore, EMA reported that veld fires have already destroyed property and agriculture produce worth an estimate of $187 167.00. To add on, veld fires have claimed the lives of three people, two of them minors aged three and six.

These statistics came at a time when the world at large was about to commemorate the international day of the preservation of the ozone layer on the 16th of September also known as the Montreal protocol.

The Montreal protocol was a global agreement which was signed on 16 September 1987 to stop harmful ozone destruction.

A research that was led by Daniel Anderson which was recorded in the ‘Nature Communications’ claims that human caused fires in Africa and the South East of Asia travel all the way to the west pacific through the lower atmosphere. This affects the tropical belt that girds the earth.

This claim is supported by a scholar called Sullivan who asserts that ‘human made fires pollute the ozone half a world away’.

In an interview with the Diplomat, EMA spokesperson, Amkhele Sidange highlighted that “veld fires increase the atmospheric carbon sink and this is caused by the carbon that would have been released from the trees, and with more carbon in the atmosphere that is now a greenhouse gas that actually will now affect the weather and climatic patterns.

That is where we can end up talking about issues of global warming and climate change. Veld fires can also destroy the basal cover and this might end up affecting the local weather patterns.”

Sidange bemoans that while efforts are being made by the government to curb the destruction of the environment through the provision of environmental laws, Zimbabweans are still failing to comply with these laws.

“As a country we have very strict laws in terms of veld fires, there is the    Environmental Management Act [chapter 20:27] and for veld fires it has been simplified through a Statutory Instrument  7 of 2007 and this the instrument that we use in the management of veld fires  and it is also supported by the Forestry Act” said Sadange.

Statutory instrument 7 of 2007 Environmental management (Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection) Regulations states that “no person shall deliberately cause a fire outside residential or commercial premises during the fire season.

The land user owner, farmer, lessee, designated authority is responsible for extinguishing fires on their property regardless of the origin of the fire and in case of a fire outbreak any persons within the vicinity of the fire other than the user or owner of that land must extinguish the fire”

However, it can be noted that regardless of the Laws uncontrolled veld fires are still prevalent in Zimbabwe as evidenced by the 84,7% increase in veld fires.

Regarding the prevalence of veld fires Mrs Sidange  said “ Our authorities they stretch from level eight to level fourteen or imprisonment  up to a year, in the fire season starting a fire outside your premises is a criminal offence ,refusing to participate in extinguishing a fire is a punishable offence ,failure to extinguish a fire is a punishable offence.’”

“However, there are people who always want to deviate from the law, just like how people still have the edge to steal regardless of the implications” she added.

EMA has already issued 850 tickets to people who were violating environmental laws, opened 52 dockets with the Zimbabwe Republic Police and they have issued 5037 environmental protection orders since the start of the fire season.

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