Government departments swamped with veld fire relief calls

‘Emergency moves are already under way to buy fodder for the affected farmers.’
Issue date 17 August 2007

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The KwaZulu-Natal Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (DAEA), Social Welfare and Population Development (SWPD), and Local Government and Traditional (LGTA), are reeling following the devastation caused by the recent runaway wildfires that ravaged many parts of the province. These departments have been swamped with calls for humanitarian assistance from people affected by wildfires that occurred in the Paulpietersburg, Winterton, Eshowe and Nkandla areas, resulting in at least 17 confirmed human deaths, the deaths of thousands of livestock and the destruction of tens of thousands of timber plantations and grazing lands. MEC s Mtholephi for the DAEA, Dr Meshack Radebe for the SWPD and Mike Mabuyakhulu for the LGTA have already visited the most fire-ravaged areas and have committed their departments’ resources to providing emergency relief to affected citizens.

“We are appealing to farmers, both communal and commercial, whose livestock was destroyed by fire to contact the local Disaster Management Offices at local municipalities. My department’s Veterinary Public Health Unit has already begun disposing of dead livestock in fire-affected areas,” Mthimkhulu said. In scenes reminiscent of June’s runaway fires that destroyed large sections of the KZN Midlands, DAEA officials in the most recently affected areas have already begun distributing compensation forms to local and district municipalities so that they can be handed out to communal and commercial farmers seeking financial support for the losses they have experienced. “Emergency moves are already under way to buy fodder for the affected farmers so they can feed their remaining livestock in the interim,” said the DAEA’s former acting Head of Department, Siddiq Adam.

Mthimkhulu added that the DAEA, SWPD and the LGTA had tasked senior officials to coordinate a joint humanitarian assistance response to what he called “the calamity that has engulfed certain areas of the province”. He also said that a joint ministerial delegation would visit affected areas to assess the damage and bring humanitarian relief in the form of medical supplies, blankets, clothing, tents and food. The KZN Agricultural Union Kwanalu, under its president Robin Barnsley, was praised for keeping Mthimkhulu informed of the latest developments regarding the fires, and the MEC thanked Kwanalu for the spirit of cooperation between the union and the DAEA.

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“We were just about to complete verification of the compensation claims for the earlier runaway fire incidents that took place in the Greater Howick area in June, and now we find ourselves having to deal with these latest incidents,” Mthimkhulu said in exasperation. Non-governmental organisations and private individuals have jumped to the aid of those affected by the latest fires, and the various MECs involved in relief efforts thanked them for their welcome assistance. Organisations such as Gift of the Givers and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals urged the public to contact them to offer any assistance possible with the organisation’s own relief efforts. One of the most important needs was for fresh fodder for the remaining animals in affected areas, and for funds to treat animals injured in the fires. – Lloyd Phillips