Beware the season of veld fires
WINDHOEK – Windhoek with its booming population in excess of 300 000 residents is a potential hot spot for devastating veld fires this time of the year and the city’s fire brigade already attends to between eight and ten fires in and around the capital on a daily basis.
And the seasonal August winds could make this situation considerably worse in the days to come.
Senior station officer of the Windhoek Fire Brigade Jeffrey Mayanga yesterday appealed to every resident for full cooperation with the fire brigade and to report any veld fires in residential areas immediately.
“We are always ready and fully trained. We have the infrastructure and equipment to deal with any type of fire but we need the close cooperation of citizens to combat potentially deadly fires. We don’t hunt for smoke; we put out fires,” said the senior station officer.
Statistics indicate uncontrolled forest and veld fires destroy some five to seven million hectares of land in Namibia annually and these fires are now a real threat again during the driest months of the year, coupled with the ever-present threat of strong winds in August.
Mayanga says the presence of wind makes their job more difficult because a small fire in or near a neighbourhood can result in a virtually uncontrolled veld fire with devastating effects.
“Fires started close to houses with thatched roofs pose an added risk and owners of such houses should be extra careful and install sprinkler systems on those roofs. The bottom line is that every resident should adhere to standard fire regulations to avoid the risk of uncontrollable fires,” said Mayanga.
Despite the National Forest and Veld Fire Management Campaign driving home this message regularly, millions of hectares of valuable grazing are continuously destroyed, while the productivity of land is compromised and even human lives are lost.
Uncontrolled veld fires are sometimes caused by lightning during the rainy season, but mostly by people in the dry season.
Namibians have been reminded again that it is the responsibility of every citizen to help curb fires. Regions most affected are usually Zambezi, the Kavangos, Omaheke and Otjozondjupa, but parts of Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, Kunene and Khomas also fall prey to these fires.
Some of the reasons for poor fire control and management practices, experts indicated, are due to inadequate incentives to take control measures because of unclear property rights in communal lands, inadequate coordination and cooperation between villagers, confusion caused by overlapping laws, traditional rules and inadequate skills and resources.
Veld fires destroy valuable timber and forest products such as grass for grazing, grass for thatching, and animals. The damaged environment also has an adverse impact on the tourism sector, one of Namibia’s most important earners of foreign revenue.
The fight against uncontrolled forest and veld fires has become a multi-stakeholder commitment over the years and these include the Emergency Management Unit and the various government ministries, together with the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) and Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU).
Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, every year calls on all Namibians to take precautionary measures against veld fires.
“Any irresponsible acts that may result in the outbreak of veld fires anywhere in Namibia will and must be regarded as a criminal offence and those responsible will and must be prosecuted and legally punished,” Mutorwa was quoted as having said.
Precautionary measures against veld fires include the scraping of fire belts, keeping dams full and having firefighting equipment at hand.
Land owners are implored to give a plan of their farms and infrastructure to their farmer association, so that the necessary precautions can be taken.
Following the good rains this season, the NAU has also cautioned members and especially charcoal burners against veld fires.
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