Loveness Bepete Chronicle Reporter
THE country has recorded a 300 percent increase in the number of veld fire related deaths with 12 people dying this year compared to four in 2013. Environmental Management Agency education and publicity officer Mildred Matunga told journalists during a media tour at Woodlands Farm in Hwange district last week that the fires destroyed 1,6 million hectares of land in the country this year.

She said last year veld fires ravaged an estimated 1,2 million hectares of land.

Matunga said it was regrettable that people continued to die needlessly in veld fires while the country lost millions of dollars worth of wildlife and forests, despite extensive awareness campaigns on the issue.

Veld fire investigations, Matunga said, had revealed that most fires are started by poachers, land clearing, charcoal making, bee smoking and careless throwing away of lit cigarettes.

She said since 2011, Hwange had been experiencing the highest incidents of veld fires in Matabeleland North.

“Hwange district has continued to be the most fire prone district in the Province from 2011 to date. Land hectarage lost has increased from 83,463 last year to 144,263 hectares this year,” she said. Matabeleland North Province lost 125,952 ha in last year’s fire season and 356,430 ha this year”.

Matunga urged communities and property owners to put in place fire prevention measures before the onset of the 2015 fire season.

The fire season stretches between July 31 and October 31 every year.

“I urge all communities and property owners to have an early start in the implementation of pre-suppression measures so as to curb the spread of veld fires in 2015 thereby preventing destruction of property and loss of lives,” she said.

Villagers in Sikabela and Woodlands who make a living out of proceeds from Safari operations have been working closely with EMA to prevent wildfires.

They have drilled boreholes, constructed four primary schools and a secondary school using proceeds from hunting Safari operations.

A villager who only identified himself as Ndlovu said EMA had helped them come up with effective strategies to protect their wildlife and veld which has benefited them.

Ndlovu said: “Out of wildlife management, we’ve managed to set up water taps for each household in the village and this has impacted hugely on our standards of living,” he said.

Chief Shana challenged the Hwange Rural District Council to emulate the good work by the Sikabela and Woodlands communities in Matetsi and transform the operations of their campfire programmes.

“Matetsi communities have done a remarkable job. I urge Hwange Rural District Council to transform operations of Campfire projects and allow communities to directly access and manage their hunting quotas in the same manner that the resettled communities could also benefit in the hunting industry,” he said.

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