Fighting Bush fires and related matters

Every year, the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), issues bush fire hazard alert to all stakeholders. This is done through the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives, MMDCEs who double as Chairmen of District Disaster Management Committees for activation of District Anti-Bush Fire Committees and utilisation of all local media and other platforms for public awareness creation on bush fires. This is in line with disaster prevention and early warning part of Ghana Disaster Management Cycle adopted from the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.
There are three phases in Ghana disaster management cycle namely, pre-disaster phase, disaster/emergency phase and post disaster phase. The primary component of the pre-disaster phase is disaster preparedness. Whiles the developed countries are utilising insurance  products and strict environmental protection policies, laws and conventions to prevent and manage wildfire hazards and disasters at individual and community levels, Ghana on the other hand is yet to develop permanent solutions to bush fire phenomenon which is a critical hazard to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs particularly food security and nutrition.
As the Ghana Meteorological Agency announced this year’s Harmattan season, the first hazard that comes to mind is bushfires which can be traced to the colonial era where yearly bush fire disasters have left many families and communities with permanent disability, injured, dysfunctional and in worse cases human lives, livestock and other properties are lost, especially in farming communities in the savannah and transitional belts.
The most severe bush fire disaster that rendered vast tracks of farm land barren of vegetation and increase the savannah belt exposure to desertification in Ghana was witnessed in the 1982 to 1984 dry seasons. The incident resulted in nationwide hunger, famine, malnutrition, fatalities and loss of endangered species. In fact, hard lessons were learnt from the 1980s wild fire disasters in Ghana. In 1983 duty bearers enacted P.N.D.C Law 46 to legally back the control of bush fires. This was repealed 7 years later and the Control and Prevention of Bush fire ACT, 1990, P.N.D.C Law 229 was promulgated. The Act makes it mandatory on every District Assembly to establish Bush Fire Control Sub-Committee from the Executive Committee which is the final decision making body of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies.
Sadly, the absent of Bush Fire Control Sub-Committees in most of the District Assemblies have resulted in arson and accidental bush fires for the past decades putting undue pressure on central government and disaster mangers because those bushfires destroy communities’ resources and increased post-harvest loses in the agriculture sector of the economy especially cocoa and cashew farms in the forest belt, rice and soya-beans farms in the savannah belt. By law, the development of appropriate Anti-Bush Bye-Laws is one of the primary functions of the Bush Fire Control Sub-Committees of District Assemblies Executive committees and when fully utilize will increase the internal generated funds for more development as people who engage in setting fire to the Bush would be fined.
The Control and Prevention of Bushfire ACT has empowered all Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to determine permanent and co-oped members of the Bush Fire Sub-Committee. For instance, the District Assembly may co-opt the traditional councils, District fire officer, District forestry officer, senior officer each from Game and Wildlife conservation, Agriculture Extension Service, Animal health and production, as well as NADMO and its Disaster Volunteer Groups. The Bushfire Control Sub-Committees are mandated to use the ecological characteristics of their various District Assemblies as the guiding principle in drawing up appropriate by-laws for adequate prevention, control and monitoring of bushfires. Again, they are to determine the period of ban and lifting of ban on bush fire activities base on ecological characteristics, establish fire volunteer squad in every electoral area, support the Ghana National Fire Service and help in punishing bush fire culprits by court sanctions or community labour in order to deter citizens from unlawful fire usage during the prohibited period of the year and to generate income to the District Assemblies.
The Bushfire Control Sub-Committees are also tasked to educate residents within their Districts on the hazards of uncontrolled fires and to set up town, area and unit bushfire control committees for the implementation of towns, communities, and hamlets fire volunteer squads activities. The Bush Fire Sub-Committee’s performance is measured with the quality of output produced, data compiled on fire outbreaks and income generated from payment of penalties by people who set fire to bushes per the quarterly reports submitted to the District Assembly, Chief Fire Officer, Chief Conservator of Forests and the Environmental Protection Council. For the sake of ‘Agriculture: moving Ghana beyond Aid’ theme of this year’s National Farmers’ Day celebration government should encourage the District assemblies and all stakeholders to go beyond documented Act of Parliament to real life implementation of bush fire related laws.


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