Veld fires claim 16 lives


HARARE – At least 16 people lost their lives last year while close to 1,6 million hectares of land and thousands of dollars’ worth of property was destroyed by veld fires countrywide, the Environmental Management Agency has said.

Revealing the statistics and an overview of 2015 fire season, the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) yesterday described how the country was losing millions of dollars every year as valuable deciduous trees, wildlife, property and human life was being destroyed by fires.

The statutory body, responsible for ensuring protection of the environment, called on more vibrant pre-fire suppression measures to curb the destructive scourge which continues to occur with significant frequency and in intensity across the country’s 10 provinces.

“16 people lost their lives while in 2014, 12 lives were lost due to veld fires,” Ema said in a statement yesterday.

“A total of 2 464 incidences resulting in 1 510 342 77 hectares of land being destroyed by fire . . . were recorded in 2014.”

Conservationists and environmentalists have been carrying out education and awareness campaigns that last year included 1 079 meetings reaching out to 66 739 people.

“We conducted workshops that included 42 indabas and capacity building. (Last year), 201 fire fighting teams, 557 police officers and 1 381 traditional leaders were trained.”

The agency said a number of veld fire perpetrators were arraigned before the courts.

“(At least) 48 fire dockets (were) at the magistrates’ courts and 10 finalised. 29 fire cases were handled by traditional leaders and finalised.

“(In terms of regulation and law enforcement, there were 1 229 orders and 307 tickets and 127 dockets.”The agency said it faced a series of challenges in curbing veld fires, chief among them the trivialisation of environmental crimes.

“There is need to empower community-based fire-fighting teams with fire-fighting equipment. We face challenges of poor connectivity with some districts where we are recommending the set-up of satellite phones,” read part of the statement.

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With the destruction of forests resulting in decreased food production and have a negative impact on climate Ema appealed to the public, government departments and conservationists to be proactive.

“As we approach yet another dry season, let us be proactive and protect our properties from the possibility of veld fires.

“Among the ways of doing this are . . . pre-fire suppression measures such as fire guard construction, hay bailing and apiculture. Let’s work together and prevent veld fires."

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