COVID-19 hits Zimbabwe fire awareness campaigns

By Learnmore Nyoni

Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency (EMA) says the Covid-19 pandemic has highly compromised their usual operations in raising public awareness against bush fires, sparking fear of more damage around the country.

Speaking to journalists about the “fire season” which stretches from May to October every year, EMA Midlands Province Manager Benson Bhasera, said the national lockdowns adopted to control the pandemic had forced his organisation to conduct awareness campaigns virtually due to restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

“Since last year’s fire season up to this year, we have been compromised 100% due to the Covid-19 pandemic because we have not been able to conduct our awareness as usual,” he said. “We have not been able to conduct public gatherings in order to sensitise our farmers about the fire season.”

Adapting to new norm

However, Bhasera highlighted that EMA had been able to adapt to the “new normal” by spreading the awareness message and working on its mandate virtually.

“Since last year we have been conducting our awareness virtually through WhatsApp as we were not able to go into the communities and have direct contact with the farmers.

“Fortunately last year’s fire season we recorded a decrease but this year we are likely to have an increase in veld fire because of abundance in biomass all over the province, ” he said.

This year EMA is conducting these fire season awareness programmes throughout the Midlands Province in fire hot spot areas such as Chirumhanzu, Mberengwa, Zvishavane and Kwekwe.

Damaging veld fires

EMA is urging farmers to build fireguards and also to go into projects that contribute to the reduction of biomass in order to minimise the chances of having an outbreak in veld fires throughout the year.

Veld fires are blazes that get out of control, become wild, and destroy extensive tracts of forests, grasslands, animals, people and their properties in the process.

While fire, as part of natural processes, has a positive role in the vegetation structure and composition, and helps recycle nutrients contained in old and dead trees, EMA campaigns against frequent burning as it has implication on carbon stocks and emissions, wildlife habitat, human health and life as well as livelihoods.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of land is destroyed by veld fires in Zimbabwe annually.

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