Thank you, hon Chairperson, thank you, hon member. Yes, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry is considering increasing the budget of the Working on Fire programme, as I intimated earlier.
This programme is, however, a partnership between the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, the Department for Provincial and Local Government, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and provincial competencies as well as many other partners. Of course, there will have to be consultation with them on the programme before we say how we are going to move forward.
I can mention that the budget for the programme has grown significantly over the years since it was initially started in 2003-04 with a budget of only R20 million. Today it has a budget of R81,3 million including contributions of R8 million from our partners - the KwaZulu-Natal provincial department of agriculture, and a proposed R2,2 million from the Gauteng provincial department of agriculture, conservation and environment.
So, the principal contributions are R56,4 million through my own department as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme, and R14,7 million that is transferred to my department from the Department for Provincial and Local Government for our aerial firefighting capacity. It is certainly our desire to increase the number of firefighters. The number of firefighters that has been proposed to give optimal coverage is about 5 000 in the country.
The needs of the programme must, however, be weighed up, as I said earlier, against the other demands on the available resources. However, we are in a position to motivate the need for more funds. It is, however, also important that we look at other ways and means through which the functions can be supported, including taking an integrated approach to fire management, that is securing support from local government through working more closely with their structural firefighting capacity.
We could also secure support through the fire-protection associations because where fire-protection associations have been established, the response to problems of fire is a lot faster and they are better organised to respond quicker and to bring on board the authorities. It is also important that we try to secure investments from sectors that stand to benefit from the work of the programme including public entities. The obvious ones here, of course, would be the forestry and sawmilling industries, amongst other entities.
It is important that we also optimise the use of our resources, such as using Working for Water teams to do the less dangerous mopping-up work after fires, thereby freeing up the trained firefighters to only having to deal with fighting fires.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is getting people to prevent wild fires and to report them timeously and accurately when they do occur. Speed is vital in firefighting, and so is preparedness in being safe during a fire. Thank you, Chairperson.