EMA issues veld fire alert

Tichafara Bepe

More than half of Zimbabwe is at risk of veld fires owing to high vegetation spawned by late rains experienced in the 2017/2018 summer cropping season, the Environmental Management Authority has said.

Already, 70 000 hectares have been affected by veld fires since July 31 this year.

EMA communications officer Ms Joyce Chapungu recently said 39 percent of the country was at low risk, with 22 percent and 37 percent at medium and high risk, respectively. Only 0,8 percent falls in the extreme risk category.

The 2018 fire prediction modelling was done via calculations using vegetation captured on satellite as at April 13, 2018 and the 2017 burnt hectarage.

“Using biomass and the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (observing from a space platform whether a target has green vegetation or not) as a proxy for biomass, the agency mapped the susceptibility of the country to veld fires,” said Ms Chapungu.

“Biomass represents an important variable in the fire equation, which is matter that when dry and there is an ignition, burns.”

EMA is working with multiple farmers, traditional leaders, Police and the Transport and Infrastructure Development Ministry on pre-emptive measures like fireguards and prosecution of environmental offenders to forestall veld fires.

“From July 31, 2018 to date, a cumulative 232 incidences have been recorded, resulting in a cumulative burnt area of 69 958 hectares,” said Ms Chapungu.

“The cumulative burnt area translates to 16,8 percent increase compared to the same period in 2017 when 147 fire incidences were recorded during the same period, burning 58 193 hectares of land.”

Most fires are attributed to improper disposal of household ash, deliberate acts/arson, children playing with matches, reckless disposal of lit cigarette stubs (especially by motorists), electrical faults and land clearance using fire.

Last year, veld fires claimed six lives compared to seven people in 2016.

Monetising vegetation

In addition to awareness campaigns, authorities are also monetising vegetation to encourage environmentally responsible behaviour.

EMA is working with the Youth, Sport, Arts and Culture Ministry on beekeeping projects, and a thatch-grass harvesting initiative with Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development Ministry. Apart from generating significant revenues, the projects help reduce fire risk.

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