Forest Fires Worrisome

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By Wezi Tjaronda

WINDHOEK

The Directorate of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry is considering holding a national conference to debate forest fires.

Forestry Director Joseph Hailwa told New Era yesterday that the conference would provide answers as to why forest fires occur every year.

He said although forest fires destroyed millions of hectares of grazing, wildlife and property, there seemed to be no end in sight to the problem.

“We want to find out what it is that is wrong. People burn forests every year yet they know it is wrong. We want to find out whether forest fires are a problem or not,” he said.

Since last week a number of areas such as Otjinene, Tsumkwe, Omaune and Okamatapati have been burning, destroying the already scarce grazing.

The Emergency Management Unit yesterday warned the public to desist from setting the country’s forests alight.

EMU acting Director Gabriel Kangowa said uncontrolled and repeated forest fires could be a threat to human lives and their livelihood through damage to property, land and products such as wood.

Kangowa said the situation was of concern to the Government because millions of hectares are burnt every year.

Forest fires have also been reported this year in the Omusati, Caprivi and Kavango regions.

Hailwa said the regions worst affected by the fires this season are Kavango, Otjozondjupa and Omaheke.

The fires have caused serious damage to vegetation, said Hailwa.

Fires are often used to destroy old grass and clear the ground for new shoots and also to destroy pests found in grazing areas. Unfortunately, Hailwa said, the fires destroy vegetation and small animals indiscriminately. He said people who burn poles, collect honey, clear crop fields and do control burning to reduce organic matter cause most forest fires especially when it is not raining.

“In Omaheke and Otjozondjupa people cut poles from indigenous trees and burn them for them to resist the weathering processes,” he said.

He however said arson and accidents were the major causes of fires.

Kangowa said Namibia was vulnerable to national and other disasters that have adverse effects on communities, the national economy and the county’s development objectives. He said communities that are already at risk become more vulnerable because of several aggravating factors such as poverty and environmental degradation.

“This negative situation weakens the ability of our people to cope and their ecosystem to withstand destruction and loss of lives,” Kangowa said.

Due to the limited budget of the directorate to fight fires, Hailwa said, negotiations were recently held with the Russian government in several areas of cooperation, which include fire fighting.

“It is up for consideration and we hope to get some help in the future,” he said. Preventative measures in place include the promotion of public education and awareness programmes, training for emergency responders in creating fire belts, risk assessment programmes and provision of fire fighting equipment.

Kangowa said the EMU is buying fire beaters for Omaheke, Erongo, Omusati and Otjozondjupa regions, while Caprivi and Kavango are already covered under the emergency and risk reduction programme of the directorate of forestry. Kangowa urged people to report fires immediately after detection to governors’ offices.

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