Bushfires And The Okavango

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The winter season in Botswana which runs from May to August is a season characterised by frequent bus fires not only in the Okavango Delta, but in the entire country of Botswana as a whole. Historically and scientifically, in many wilderness areas, fire can be a necessary part of the eco-system, needed for the burn-off of old vegetation and for the regeneration of plants. In this regard, fire can be used as a management tool.

Conversely, if fire is not appropriately used, it becomes destructive not only to the ecosystem but also to humans and infrastructure found in a particular place. In this regard, as residents of Ngamiland are currently in a season where bushfires have been seen as destructive, the necessary precautions and preventative measures are needed to ensure the protection of the environment and human life from destruction by bushfires.

The causes of many of the fires in the Okavango Delta are different to the natural causes of the past. The causes of bushfire outbreaks in the Okavango Delta and in Botswana can be categorized into three: a) fires escaping from daily sustenance energy needs, b) fires resulting from land use management and c) fires linked to irresponsible behaviour. Fires that are deliberately set by man to clear vegetation for agriculture and fishing can be categorised as fires resulting from irresponsible behaviour. This includes fires that are reportedly set by safari operators in a specific area to bring on new grass to attract animals to their lodges.

For some of the villages in and around the Okavango Delta, this season is that which they go out into the bush to collect thatching grass. The collection of veld products such as harvesting thatching grass, food and medicinal plants in the bush has been described as one of those activities which often results in bushfires. This is because when people are out there, some do not put off the fires after use hence result in bush fires.

In this regard, irresponsible behaviour can be linked to the outbreak of bush fires. Those harvesting thatching grass are known for making fires for cooking. As a result, some of them fail to put of those fires and this result in bushfires. Natural fires are rare in Botswana. For instance, peat fires occur in the Okavango delta during periods of prolonged drought. In addition, lightening also cause fires but such incidents are limited in the Okavango Delta.

The outbreak of unplanned bushfires in the Okavango area has effects on both human well-being, the environment and infrastructure especially tourism facilities. For example, bushfires lead to loss of veld products. Veld products have a significant contribution in rural livelihoods. Bushfires causing the loss of vegetation upon which veld products can be collected.

In addition, the vegetation is the source forage for both domestic and wildlife. Bushfires in this regard cause the loose of forage for both domestic and wildlife. Compounded by the lack of rainfall in Botswana, rangelands often become overgrazed of the green flush stimulated by burning, exposing land to agents of soil erosion such as heat and wind and rain water. It is from this background that all of us have a responsibility to avoid bushfires in the Okavango delta.

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