Zimbabwe records 60% spike of veld fire incidents and deaths

-The total area burnt increased by 60.92% compared to 2021, while 18 fire related deaths were recorded in 2022 compared to 8 in 2021, Environment Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said.

John Cassim

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Speaking ahead of the launch of the 2023 National Fire Week launch, Zimbabwean Environment Minister, Mangaliso Ndlovu, on Monday revealed, 2022 was one of the worst years with a 60% increase in veld fire reports.

“In 2022, a total of 7 511 fire incidents were recorded during the dry season, which destroyed 1 753 055 hectares of forest and grassland, compared to 3 948 fire incidents recorded in 2021, subsequently destroying 1 033 722.86ha. 

“The total area burnt increased by 60.92% compared to 2021,” the Minister bemoaned.

He added that, “18 fire related deaths were recorded in 2022 compared to 8 in 2021.

 Unfortunately, the 2022 fire period cannot be complete without mention of the 10 October 2022 Umzingwane tragedy where 10 lives were lost to a single veld fire incident; and what a regrettable tragedy.

This year’s national fire week will be launched at Compton Farm in Makoni District in the Manicaland Province soon.

Zimbabwe has in the past two decades lost 150 lives to veld fires and as such the government through the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) is strengthening the fight against the scourge.

– veld fire season 

In Zimbabwe the fire restriction season begins on July 1 to November 30 but the second week of May marks the National Veld Fire Awareness Week.

Around this time most farmers would have harvested their crops, hence increased biomass that triggers fire across the country.

According to Minister Ndlovu, the awareness week marks the beginning of a vigorous and extensive dissemination of information on the protection of the ecosystems from veld fires. 

This year’s veld fire awareness week will be launched under the theme, “Prevent veld fires to protect the environment! Our National Heritage.”

The theme speaks of the need to protect the environment which also doubles up as a natural heritage.

– context and veld fire trends

“Veld fires have become an issue of national concern given their wanton destructive nature. 

Each year, the country loses over a million hectares of forests and grasslands depriving wildlife and livestock of pastures and leaving the country counting losses of lives and property,” Minister Ndlovu warned.

In Zimbabwe, veld fires are nothing but a human cause hence the decision to annually announce the fire restriction period.

In a bid to reduce veld fires, Zimbabweans were urged to plant trees and restore wetlands as a means of increasing carbon sinks and carbon sequestration.

Farmers were urged to have anti-veld fire drives on their farms while the transport authorities were urged to clear road servitudes of all biomass.

This is because in recent years, roadside fires have proved to be a major risk to the motorists.

The Zimbabwe Electricity and Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) and Telecommunication entities, have also been asked to ensure safety is guaranteed at their transformers and boosters.

– misconception 

A few weeks ago, EMA came to the help of children of the 10 people who died last year, while putting out a veld fire in Umzingwane, near Bulawayo.

To some this gesture appeared to be an incitement for people to start veld fires knowing that they will be compensated.

However, Minister Ndlovu said this was a government policy

“Government and other key stakeholders came together to help the needy after the incident that was declared a disaster.

Local businesses came to assist and it’s not true that this is a government policy,” he said.

Mapac Motors Service Station sponsored educational needs for the affected three (3) girl children from Umzingwane District.

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