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Alarming levels of fire incidents prompts traditional leaders to call for stiffer penalties

Story Kenias Chivuzhe

CALLS for stiffer penalties and collective action to arrest the alarming levels of fire incidents are getting louder as the country is gravitating towards an extreme fire risk zone.

Manicaland province has not been spared from the effects of veld fires, with the area destroyed by fire incidents increasing by 35 percent.

This was revealed by the Manicaland Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Honourable Nokuthula Matsikenyere during the launch of the national fire week in Makoni District this Tuesday where she noted that veld fires are threatening the viability of the timber industry.

“The province is the highest producer of timber in the country and the industry contribute significantly to the national economy. Thus, you coming here to raise awareness on fire management will go a long way in safeguarding our precious environment. During the 2022 fire season, the province record 35 250.9 hectares of land burnt. The affected area increased by 35 percent from 2021 when 23 513.26 hectares were burnt,” noted Honourable Matsikenyeri.

Traditional leaders are equally concerned hence the call for stiffer penalties to effectively deal with the menace.

“The issue of veld fires can be eradicated if the penalties for offenders are deterrent enough. The current laws are lenient where people are allowed to pay just a small fine after starting veld fires,” stated Chief Makoni.

“From time immemorial veld fires were considered a crime and offenders would pay heavy fines to traditional leaders. We want such powers to be given back to the traditional leadership while the entire court system also gives harsh sentences,” added Chief Chiduku.

The Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Honourable Mangaliso Ndlovu says the alarming increase in hectarage destroyed by over 60 percent at national level calls for watertight management strategies.

“Hectarage burnt every year has remained high over the past decade with an average of one million hectares every year. A total of 7511 veld fire incidents which burnt one million seven hundred and fifty-three thousand and fifty-five hectares were recorded in 2022.This is a 60.29 percent increase compared to 2021,” said the Minister.

“These veld fires resulted in 18 deaths during the restricted period. The 2023 fire risk modelling revealed that the country is generally in the medium to high risk.”

“The districts that fall into extreme risk categories here in Manicaland include Nyanga, Makoni, Mutare and Chimanimani. These areas have to be carefully monitored as they may cumulate into extreme fire risk zones,” added Honourable Ndlovu.

The fire season is now from the first of July to the 31st of October with government calling on farmers to establish fire guards to protect their areas in the event of fire outbreaks.

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