More than 2m hectares destroyed by fires

Veldfires have become a major concern since the start of the fire season in July, said forestry minister Pohamba Shifeta.

09 October 2020 | Disasters

WINDHOEK







ELLANIE SMIT

More than 2.218 million hectares (ha) of land has been destroyed by veld fires since the beginning of this year in Namibia.

Statistics from January to 6 October indicate that the majority of land was destroyed by fires in the Otjozundjupa Region (875 400 ha), followed by Kavango East (635 900 ha) and then Zambezi (220 100 ha).

Forestry minister Pohamba Shifeta said the occurrence of veldfires since the fire season, which starts in July, has become a huge concern for the ministry.

This is despite calls to the public and other stakeholders to prevent unwanted fires.

He said that in the period between 23 to 30 September, a total of 42 veldfires were reported, with the most affected regions being Kavango East, Kavango West, Otjozondjupa, Oshikoto, Zambezi, Ohangwena, Kunene, Oshana, Omusati and Omaheke.

Seasonal fires

Shifeta said the seasonal occurring of forest and veldfires frequently damages vegetation in fire-prone regions, leading to a loss in valuable resources.

Severe fires also disrupt the ecosystem and affect natural processes which may be crucial in sustaining livelihoods.

“Prior to the start of the fire season, the ministry developed a robust fire management strategy to prevent, detect and suppress fires. The strategy components aimed at capacitating through education and training local communities in basic fire prevention and fighting skills.”

Shifeta said as part of the strategy, the ministry started with early burning, which is the pre-planned ignition of fire for specific purposes such as fuel reduction, habitant modification, improvement of natural resources and removal of encroacher bushes.

Fire breaks

The ministry also facilitates the preparation of extensive networks of fire breaks annually and, according to Shifeta, has already started clearing fire breaks in fire-prone regions.

He appealed to the public, landowners and other stakeholders to take collective responsibility in managing fires during this season and said they should put in place necessary prevention measures such as fire cut lines and breaks in and around their properties as well as to basic firefighting tools.

“We recognise the significance of fire in people’s livelihoods, however, all citizens should be reminded to utilise fire responsibly. We have noted with great concern that most of the time, destructive fire is caused by irresponsible behaviour or attitudes.”

Before starting a fire, the public is urged to check the surroundings to assess the risk regarding flammable materials and wind speed, and where required, put in place preventative measures to stop the fire from spreading to unintended places, the minister said.

He added that smokers should kill their cigarette butts completely before throwing them away, and when using fire to clear a specific area, the relevant officials must be informed.

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