New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Do We Need Controlled Forest Fires?

Windhoek — The worst affected regions by forest and veld fires are the Caprivi, Kavango, Otjozondjupa, Omaheke, Omusati, Kunene, Oshikoto and Khomas Regions.

Forest and veld fires are a problem in Namibia, especially in the dry winter months. Every year 3.5 to 7 million hectares are lost to uncontrolled fires.

Yesterday marked the launch of the National Forest/Veld Fire Management Campaign where Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Libertine Amathila opened the proceedings. She said, "God has given us this beautiful rain and this tall grass and we must take care of it." Many will wonder whether we need forest fires at all - but the answer is a definite Yes.

The positive aspects of forest fires are as numerous as the negative.

Forest fires contribute to, "Enhanced grass production and better quality grass for grazing and thatching material", said Joseph Hailwa, the director of forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.

He went on: "Fire is used to clean fields, control bush encroachment, facilitate hunting, enhance germination of some plants and kill insects."

But forest fires can also cause a lot of destruction to grassland, plants and non-timber forest products (NTFP). There is also the loss of property, cattle and sometimes human lives to unchecked veld and forest fires.

People's livelihoods are also negatively impacted when there is a long-term reduction in the capacity of land to produce grass and other plant. Therefore a policy has been drafted over the past five years. It is needed for many reasons as Hailwa said.

"A comprehensive policy on this subject is needed because the occurrences and severity of the issue is putting excessive pressure on the sustainability of natural resources and there is a need for a policy on both fire prevention and fire control."

Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Nickey Iyambo elaborated; "The magnitude of the problem of uncontrolled forest and veld fires is demonstrated by its inclusion in a number of national policies and legislation. These include Article 26 and 95 of the Namibian Constitution, the Namibian Forestry Development Policy of 2001 and the National Land Policy.

This policy finds its cause in this very "overlapping of official policies, legislation and traditional rules." said Hailwa. "Insufficient awareness of government policies and legislation on forest and veld fire management and related rights and responsibilities also cause poor fire management practices."

Another factor is the prevalent lack of skills, knowledge and resources to prevent fires and adopt integrated fire management.

The minister continued to emphasize the importance of Namibia's forests since " they provide raw materials for renewable and environmentally friendly products. Forests also indirectly support the natural environment that nourishes agriculture and the food supplies of our rural communities."

Environmental services that forests provide include that of maintaining soil stability, protecting water flow and quality, regulating global climate, contributing to biodiversity, and, as a result; "They constitute a major source of national wealth, often unrecognized", added Iyambo. Other organisations that attended the launch of the campaign were the Emergency Management Unit under the office of the Prime Minister, the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU), the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) and various ministries.

The minister outlined the actions to be taken in implementing the policy which include the passing on of necessary information to teachers, school children and broadcasting stations.

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