A record 70 percent increase in veld fires compared to last season

By Tendai Munengwa, Mhlomuli Ncube and Sifiso Tshaka

The country has recorded a 70 percent increase in fire incidences, with over 134 000 hectares of forests and pastures having been lost since the beginning of the fire season.

The country is therefore sitting on a very risky situation this fire season, with increased biomass set to fuel veld fire incidences.

“The country is sitting on a very risky situation this fire season as we are looking at 89 percent biomass. This means the risk of veld fires is actually high in fact we are pushing the danger outlook into the extreme zone. Already as we speak, a child was burnt in Mashonaland East province due to a fire incident and we lost 100 thousand tonnes of unshelled maize in Mashonaland Central province,” said Amkela Sidange, EMA’s manager for Environmental Education and Publicity.

Latest statistics by EMA revealed a gloomy picture with 317 incidences countrywide destroying over 134 000 hectares of land.

The cumulative area translates to a 70 percent increase in incidences as compared to the same period last year where about 77 000 hectares were lost and 186 veld fire incidences recorded.

The most affected provinces are Mashonaland West where 36 percent of veld fires were recorded, followed by Mashonaland East at 21 percent and Midlands accounting for 15 percent of the cases.

Matabeleland North province has so far recorded nine fire incidents which have destroyed up to 120 thousand hectares of forests and pastures this season.

The raging infernos are destroying not only flora but have also put wildlife at risk.

“To us here Hwange, Lupane and the national parks are a risk. The fires consume forests and may even kill wildlife,” said Daniel Sithole of Green Shango Environmental Trust.

“Matabeleland North province has to date recorded 9 fire incidences and these have resulted in the burning of 120k hectares,” said EMA Environmental Education and Publicity Officer Matabeleland North province, Mildred Matunga.

With huge forest conservancies in Gwayi, Lupane, Nkayi and game reserves, economic lifelines are at risk if fire incidences continue.

In Matabeleland South Province, the clearing of land for various purposes including illegal gold mining activities and improper disposal of cigarette stubs are some of the human activities that have resulted in veld fires and subsequent destruction of property and land.

EMA provincial manager Descent Ndlovu said: “Since July 31 we have recorded 7 incidents where we have lost 1 270 hectares and we are yet to investigate 9 other incidents that occurred recently. We have lost hail bails and property worth US$600 to date and issued two tickets worth ZWL$30 000.

“As you know that the cause of these veld fires is large volumes of biomass. So what we have done is establish fire guards in 105 farms covering 5937 kilometres. We have cleared grass stretching 839 kilometres along major highways. There are hay bales that we have produced totaling 125 255. We have also accounted for 74 878 bundles of thatch grass, all of these have helped reduce biomass.”

So far 161 road shows have also been conducted in the province and 27 firefighting teams trained to help reduce the socio-economic impact of runaway fires in the communities.