The burning of vleis and grasslands in Harare reaches new heights during the fire season because of the dry grass and the negligent behaviour of Harare residents who light fires to burn rubbish and leave them unattended. This is detrimental to the environment because not only does it destroy property but it also decimates flora and fauna.
A statement released by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) reveals that fires have become the greatest threat to our ecosystems. Environment Education Coordinator at Mukuvisi Woodlands, Gibson Nhokwara, concurred with the statement by EMA and added that indigenous tree species are also under threat from the scourge. The fire season begins on the 31st of May and ends on the 31st of October. It is during these months that grasses begin to dry, making it easy for fires to spread.
Harare boasts some of the largest urban natural sanctuaries of flora and fauna in Zimbabwe. These include Mbizi Game Park, Monavale Vlei and Mukuvisi Woodlands. These are affected by fires since they are located near residential areas where residents sometimes employ archaic methods of waste management like burning. Wood poachers are also responsible for damaging the environment. Some fires are started when cigarette butts are not properly disposed of. “Mukuvisi Woodlands is particularly susceptible because it is near a major road and there has been a lot of illegal dumping nearby,” Nhokwara added, a development which he said applies to some of the other sanctuaries located near residential areas.
Uncontrolled fires pose a great threat to many insect, bird, and animal species within the natural ecosystem in Harare’s wetlands, vleis and woodlands. It also disturbs the natural ecosystem as it destroys most of the few remaining indigenous grasses and trees within the wetlands and kills micro-organisms. It also degrades soil compositions as it destroys top soils. Human health is compromised when urban ecosystems are destroyed by fires as this reduces the amount of oxygen in the air and the air is polluted.
Under the Forestry Act it is illegal to damage any type of forest and perpetrators are liable to fines and imprisonment of not less than a year. Under Section 4 of the Environmental Management Act chapter 20:22 of 2002, urban citizens of Zimbabwe are equipped with rights of environmental stewardship. This gives residents authority to protect the environment. It is a punishable offence to walk away from a fire hence residents are responsible for putting out fires. He also proposed the establishment of an environmental court that would specifically preside over environmental offences. Nhokwara bemoaned the lack of implementation of the statutes governing burning and he revealed that efforts are underway to increase public awareness of the impact of veld fires on bio-diversity. He is working together with organisations like EMA and local schools to combat this. “Campaigns are currently underway to educate residents on the consequences of illegal burning,” said Nhokwara.
The spreading of fires can be prevented by building fire guards and dousing illegal fires. Controlled burning is also recommended.