Fire management key to survival for San communities

Lara Diez of Nyae Nyae Development Foundation advised this week, “collaboration between stakeholders and empowering the community are keys to our success,” when she announced the completion of another round of training for members of the San community at Nyae Nyae to prevent and control bush fires.
In early June a joint San team underwent refresher training in fire management. This was followed by a review of the previous year’s fire and early burning to reduce the volume of combustible material in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Community Forest, the M’kata Community Forest and the N≠a Jaqna Conservancy.
The practical benefits of both prevention and containment, form the basis of the fire training. The refresher course was presented in partnership with the Directorate of Forestry, Community Forests in Namibia and the Namparks Project. The aim is to reduce and prevent destructive wild fires. The training took place at Klein Dobe Camp in Nyae Nyae.
The team of 35 San people first received training through extensive drills and then spent several days in the field, burning key areas where the volume of wood is high and therefore of particular risk to late hot fires. Early burning can be used to reduce the fuel (wood), particularly around villages or in important grazing areas where the volume of both grass and bush is high. Conditions are further exacerbated by the tinder dry veld as a result of the current drought.
During the dry season and particularly this year, the bush is so dry, a single spark from a cigarette butt, or a piece of glass can spark a fire. The San communities know this as no other and deal with the devastating effects of bush and veld fires every year and have done so for many generations. An alarming trend observed in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and in various community forests, is the consistent increase in late fires and the extent of razed veld.
To date, 62km² of high fuel load areas have been early burnt and more will follow after a further analysis of the most high risk areas. This is the second year of this successful collaboration, with the training being largely funded by the EU as part of the Climate Change Adaptation funding.
With climate change having a major environmental impact, dealing with the fires becomes even more critical. Especially after 2012, when nearly 50% of the whole Nyae Nyae area burnt down resulting in the loss of lives as well as damage to rangeland, wildlife and the environment through CO² emissions. The San are taking a proactive approach to managing the impact of climate change and limit the damage of the fires in the late dry season of September and October. The approach they are taking fits with their cultural tradition of selective early burning in the cooler months from April to June when fires can be better controlled and the fuel load reduced to prevent the later and more damaging hot fires.
These fires not only consume the land, they threaten the very lives and livelihoods of all the San. This also damages the rich heritage and cultural traditions of the communities and that is why a concerted effort by the San as well as other stakeholders is being made to counter the ever-looming spectre of out of control late hot fires.
A collaborative approach between the local San communities, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and other community projects such as those supported by the European Union, the Namparks Projects and the Community Forest II projects, continues to offer a chance to take control of the potentially hazardous situation.

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