BY VANESSA GONYE
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has started recording peat fires in Harare as part of efforts to eliminate them.
These fires occur in wetlands as a result of the presence of peat, which is an accumulation of decayed organic matter which forms combustible matter which easily burns.
They are often under-seated fires which remain smouldering underground and only manifest as smoke on the surface.
Speaking during a tour of Stratford Vlei which is a wetland area covering about 20 hectares, with a wetland core of 639 square metres currently affected by peat fires, EMA environmental education and publicity manager, Amkela Sidange said her organisation was on the first stage of removing the peat fire at the site.
“In two weeks’ time we are going to embark on the complete process of destroying the peat fire and we will conduct the processes in five stages. Each stage will determine the course of action for the next stage,” she said.
“Currently there is clearing of vegetation to expose the whole area to clearly see the part covered by the fire. This has become a dangerous area posing environmental and physical threats to residents. Two injury incidents were recorded in recent years of a child and a biking lady who suffered high degree burns.”
The wetland is also being used as a squatter camp with close to 50 families living there despite the risk of the dangers associated with peat fires.
EMA has barricaded the affected (burning) area using chevron ribbon to warn people and control movement into the area and is currently working with local communities to manage the peat fires.
A resident of the area said they are suffering from effects of peat fires especially during evenings and in the morning when the air is moist and murky.
“We are finding it very difficult to breathe as dump air creeps into the neighbourhood and into houses forcing us to inhale the dangerous smoke. We are willing to go an extra mile, assisting EMA and other stakeholders so as to solve the problem,” said the resident.
A member of the Stratford community project, Nikki Hinde said they have been working on the problem for more than five years, but it was not completely resolved, prompting EMA to come on board.
A Harare City Council representative said they had only been able to provide short-term solutions to the peat fires that are constantly shifting places on the same wetland and usually spread to the squatter camp affecting people living there. The fires are usually quelled by rains, but this year they were not due to poor rainfall.