Forest Fires Linked to Climate Change & Disgruntled Employees; How Malawi Villages Are Responding

khym54/CC BY 1.0
A chief addresses a group of traditional leaders in Malawi.

As climate change drives up global temperatures, it also increases the frequency of wildfires around the world. Tactics to prevent and fight these fires differ from region to region. But parts of Malawi, where forest fires are a problem for natural woodlands and industrial softwood plantations, have probably adopted one of the most unique approaches you've heard about yet: traditional leaders have enlisted to support efforts to prevent and put out forest fires.

According to AlertNet, "those efforts may include things like improving labour relations to curb arson fires by disgruntled plantation employees, and limiting the sale of beer within plantations, as drinking is linked to fires from dropped cigarettes, and limiting the use of muzzleloader guns, also believed to be setting off fires."

The story says that fires damaged nearly 22,000 acres of trees on the government-owned Viphya plantation—that's about 17 percent of the entire plantation, which is one of Africa’s largest manmade forests.

More from AlertNet:

Mzuzu, the city closest to the Viphya plantation, used to be known for its year-round cool temperatures, but the mercury there now soars as high as 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer.

Last year’s fires started raging in September and peaked around October, the hottest and driest month in the country... Plantation manager Seliano Chipokosa said that 65 percent of the young trees affected by last year’s fires were severely damaged and may not recuperate.

And in rural areas like Mzuzu, firefighting equipment is not up to full modern capacity, so prevention is key.

So meetings have started to get traditional leaders, who have influence in communities as well as legal authority, involved. It's at these meetings that some of the causes of forest fires are discussed, and acknowledged that unextinguished cigarettes, bullets from muzzleloader guns used for hunting, and arson by disgruntled employees of the timber mills are all major factors.

Improve labor relations, then, and you can eliminate one of the causes of forest fires. So efforts are underway to get employers to be better about paying salaries on time, for example.

And maybe areas that are more vulnerable to fires, because conditions are drier and hotter, can be saved at least from burning beyond recuperation and contributing even more GHG emissions in the process.

Tags: Africa | Global Climate Change | Malawi

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