Wesbank

Poor fire strategy leads to loss of life, destruction

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 04 September 2018   |   By Thomas Dust Nyoni
Poor fire strategy leads to loss of life, destruction

As I said on the last episode that our forestry resources are under threat, a symposium on forest whose theme is fundraising and climatic financing should really address major threats to forestry such as increasing population pressure, agricultural production, Fire and ways in which our forestry should be exploited to benefit the local economy. Fire is one of the major threats to our forests. Wildfire is a part of nature. It plays a key role in shaping ecosystems by serving as an agent of renewal and change. But fire can be deadly, destroying homes, wildlife habitat and timber, and polluting the air with emissions harmful to human health. Fire also releases carbon dioxide- a key greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere. Fire’s effect on the landscape may be long-lasting. Fire effects are influenced by forest conditions before the fire and management action taken or not taken after the fire.

As we approach this season there will be a lot of fire outbreaks, deliberate or natural. Veld fires have become one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time, causing so much destruction to Botswana’s natural resources, property and human life. Data from Department of forestry and range resources show that in the past ten years, people died as a result of veld fires during the dry season. Millions of dollars' worth of property, vast tracts of land, plantations, crops and pastures are also being destroyed by veld fires, compromising the nation's food security and nutrition status.

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Causes of fire outbreaks in Botswana can be categorized into three: fires escaping from daily sustenance energy needs, fires resulting from land use management and thirdly, fires linked to irresponsible behavior. High fire risk occur in WMA because while the primary land use is wildlife utilization residents have unrestricted access to veld products such as harvesting thatching grass, food and medicinal plants and these activities have been linked to escaped daily substance fires. Communities used to think wildlife official and forestry personnel DELIBERATELY put in fire in these areas so as to claim subsistence allowance (night out). Hehhheheheh a mme ruri melelo ya teng . Although it’s a criminal offence not to participate in fire suppression, and deliberately putting on fire, my main trepidation is that we can’t expect the communities to engage in altruistic behavior and play a major role if they are not involved in the decision making process.

Officially, the veldt fire season in Botswana starts in July to October. The warm part of the dry season with monthly maximum temperature ranges of 29.5–35 °C follow between August and October marking a period of elevated fire weather risk. The danger is exacerbated by issues such as changes in land use, increasing population in rural areas, inadequate or inappropriate policy, and climate change. The country relies on a fire management system that is skewed towards fire suppression and centralized around Government although faced with vast fire prone areas and lacking in resources, coordination and management capacity. This approach has de-coupled fire management from land use and livelihoods that ironically rely on fire and account for most fire outbreaks, putting the country at high risk of fire disasters Rural communities, especially in northern Botswana, are often closest to and most affected by vegetation fires.

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Many community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) projects, in which fire has been identified as a threat, do not recognize the essential role that communities play in effective fire management. In many instances, these projects fail to include communities in the fire management process, resulting in less effective management of fire and increased risk of damaging fire events that threaten the long-term benefits associated with forestry in their area. Although the framework for greater engagement of rural communities in fire management in Botswana was developed during the process of drafting an integrated fire management strategy (IFMS) that was proposed for the DFRR through the National Disaster Management Technical Committee (NDMTC) of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) in the Office of the President was document no evidence suggest that indeed communities ae involved or any traceable records that veld fires have gone down.

An integrated approach also looks at all types of vegetation fires, as fires do not stop at the border between one land-use or vegetation type and another. Integrated fire management requires a balance of many different fire-related activities; rather than being limited to actions involving fire suppression and provision of equipment, it extends to such activities as prevention, awareness raising, preparedness and restoration. We have failed as a department of Forestry to labor and normal fool our minds with simplistic explanations of forest fires tend to encourage decision makers to conclude that firefighting is the main solution to harmful forest fires, so they tend to react to short-term, recurring crises rather than focusing resources on long-term, sustainable solutions that integrate fire management. To date, inadequate attention has been paid to addressing underlying causes and to preventing a damaging pattern of recurrent fire and degradation in burnt areas.

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My qualm further is that prevailing fire management approach that is inclined towards fire suppression and is Government centered leaving communities to play a peripheral role These tools should be tailored primarily for land-use policy makers, planners and managers in fire management, including the Governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to assist in the formulation of policy, legal, regulatory and other enabling conditions and strategic actions for more holistic approaches to fire management. Their scope should include the positive and negative social, cultural, environmental and economic impacts of natural and planned fires in forests, woodlands, rangelands, grasslands, agricultural and rural/-urban landscapes. The fire management scope deliberate on early warning, prevention, preparedness (international, national, sub-national and community), safe and effective initial attack on incidences of fire and landscape restoration following fire. Rarely is our private sector involved in fire suppression. We hardly have land restoration in after fire outbreaks.

In conclusion, Communities are custodians of knowledge on past uses of fire and burning patterns which influences current fire risk. They also have direct experience of changes in land use and fire linkages in their localities due for instance, to effects of policy, technology, changes in social values, attitudes and culture and physical drivers such as climate change. So include the community. A community driven fire management strategy will in the long run provide incentives for designing locally adapted firefighting equipment and enhance employment in rural areas. Institutional framework that allow communities to be at par with government on issues of fire will release community labor and stimulate innovative approaches to combating fire outbreaks and reduce the cost of fire suppression in the long run.

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For instance, community fire volunteer units will help rejuvenate and develop further the spirit of volunteering that is fast being lost in the country. Fire volunteers are the backbone of fire management in different parts of the world. A volunteering spirit will enhance social cohesion and contribute to achieving sustainable development and adaptation to climate change. Environmentalist strongly believes in stakeholder participation in order to achieve a veld fire free environment. It is everyone's responsibility to manage the environment in a sustainable manner during this fire season and therefore stakeholder participation is upheld. Like I said above the fire season is the period between July 31 and October 31 each year. However, due to the changes in climatic conditions, the fire season extends till the inception of the rainy season. A re ye go timang melelo betsho!    



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