‘Veld fires threaten sustainable development goals progress’

Minister of Environment, Climate and Wildlife, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, addresses journalists at the launch of the National Fire Week Prevention initiative in Bulawayo yesterday. Seated are Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Judith Ncube, and Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Richard Moyo

THE sustainable management of veld fires has a huge bearing on the achievement of the set targets in the NDS1 as well as the Sustainable Development Goals on Zero Hunger and Climate Action, Environment, Climate and Wildlife Minister, Sithembiso Nyoni, has said.

Minister Nyoni made the remarks yesterday at the launch of the National Fire Week Prevention initiative held in Waterford suburb, Bulawayo.

The launch drew participation from key stakeholders, including Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Judith Ncube, Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Richard Moyo, representatives from the Environmental Management Authority, Forestry Commission, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, and others.

Minister Nyoni said veld fires are a national concern due to their devastating effects. She pointed out that Zimbabwe loses over one million hectares of forests and grasslands annually, impacting wildlife and livestock grazing leading to significant losses of property, infrastructure, crops and even human life.

Statistics revealed a decrease in fire-ravaged areas, with 858 361,9 hectares burned in 2023 compared to 2022. However, Minister Nyoni noted that 3 717 fire incidents still occurred last year, with an average of 230,9 hectares burned per incident.

“Such losses have a negative impact on the economy, and result in biodiversity loss, desertification, land degradation, drought, pollution, food insecurity and greenhouse gas emissions. There has been about a 50 percent reduction of area as compared to 1730 265 hectares destroyed in 2022,” she said.

She, however, said the decrease in the average area burnt last year was largely attributed to technical assistance rendered to communities, environmental education, training and capacity-development, and awareness campaigns done countrywide in collaboration with various stakeholders.

“Unfortunately, during the same fire restriction period, one life was lost. In as much as this was a huge decrease (94 percent) as compared to 18 lives lost in 2022, every life lost is too many. It is sad to note that during the past decade (2013-23), more than 100 people have succumbed to veld fires, hence the need to put extra effort in fighting this scourge so that no life is lost in veld fire infernos,” said Minister Nyoni.

She explained Zimbabwe’s vulnerability to veld fires, citing its status as a Savannah ecosystem with distinct seasons. The hot, wet summers give way to cold, dry winters, significantly increasing fire risks during the dry season. 

“Generally the dry season increases fuel load due to the dry rangeland and presence of windy conditions thus creating fertile ground for the start of veld fires. However, fires are normal in the Savannah ecosystem, but what becomes problematic are the veld fires that are often uncontrolled fires which result in loss of large tracts of land, property as well as life,” she said.

Minister Nyoni highlighted the legal framework for fire prevention. She explained that Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 on Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Regulations designates July 31 to October 31 each year as the official fire season. During this high-risk period, the law prohibits any outdoor fires outside residential or commercial properties to prevent uncontrolled blazes.

“Over recent years Zimbabwe has recorded veld fires outside the defined statutory fire season as a result of seasonal shifts due to climate change. Hence in the last two years the Ministry of Environment, Climate and Wildlife gazetted different fire restriction periods to cater for the changing seasons, vis-à-vis veld fire management.

“As if that is not enough, the country is currently experiencing the El Nino-induced effects with a likely elongated dry season thus again increasing vulnerability to veld fires. To that end, after extensive consultation across the whole Government spectrum, the 2024 veld fire restriction period      has been set to run from the 1st    of July to the 30th of November 2024.”

She emphasised efforts to strengthen Zimbabwe’s veld fire management. Each year, her Ministry, in collaboration with EMA, conducts veld fire risk prediction using the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). This vital modelling tool helps predict fire risks and design measures to minimise both direct and indirect losses caused by veld fires.

“Generally the prediction for 2024 has revealed that the country is generally in the medium (18,6%) to high risk (55,71%) to veld fires. The low risk zones cover 12,42 percent while an area which is in extreme high risk to veld fires covers 13,27 percent of the country,” she said.

She indicated that provinces highly exposed to veld fires are Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West and Manicaland. The districts that fall in extreme risk are Nyanga, Mutasa, Makoni, Mutare, Bindura, Makoni, Marondera, Chikomba, Hwedza, Harare, Zvimba, Mazowe, Centenary, Makonde, Hurungwe, Murewa and Chimanimani.

“Therefore, in light of the effects of the El Nino phenomenon the country is experiencing, these fire risk classes have to be carefully and closely monitored as they may culminate into extreme fire risk zones. 

“The prediction calls for tight veld fire management plans and strategies in the areas with medium, high and extreme high veld fire risk. The failure to manage biomass abundant in these areas can also create a dangerous time bomb during the dry season which is associated with dry, windy conditions and high temperatures,” she said.

Chronicle

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