Water, wetlands and life: The inseparable triplets

Community Water Alliance (CWA) and the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) joins the world in commemorating World Wetlands Day running under the theme “Inseparable: Water, Wetlands and Life”.

The contextual realities of COVID19 currently faced by global citizens where one of the COVID19 Prevention Protocols is “hand washing with soap under running water” clearly places the triplets (water, wetlands and life) as complimentary parts of one body. With flooding hard hitting residents whose houses are built on wetlands within Zimbabwean local authorities (latest being Chitungwiza Municipality), the agenda of wetlands preservation should or ought to be a twin agenda with fighting COVID19 pandemic.

It is clear that the real problem facing wetlands is depletion of this natural resource. The root causes to that depletion include among other things; construction of buildings on wetlands, agriculture or cropping on wetlands, poor governance ( touching on legislation, institutional set-up, citizen exclusion, human resource capacity etc), competing interests on land, lack of adequate information and political will as well as corruption.

As torch bearers of a grassroots based and sustainable wetlands preservation agenda CWA and CHRA posit that an efficient and effective theory of change on wetlands should entrench the following solutions, with each playing a complimentary function to advance intact wetland ecosystem:

1) Gazetting of wetlands maps for local authorities in Zimbabwe in line with procedures set out in our laws. Gazetted wetland maps are legal documents compelling duty bearers to act. CWA and CHRA view National Guidelines on “Wise Use” of Wetlands as inadequate wish list. This position is arrived at based on history of both engagements and rulings of the courts in Zimbabwe. In the High Court case HC 3561/18 where CWA & CHRA wanted to compel City of Harare to implement Minister of Local Government Circular No. 4 of 2013 as read with Section 313 of the Urban Councils Act ( Chapter 29:15), the mindset of duty bearers was revealed. The Minister of Local Government and City of Harare vehemently opposed the application and regarded the circular as “mere policy directive that is not mandatory but is a good wish for local authorities. The ruling of the court confirmed the same mindset and the precedence set shows that future cases are treated the same, with the National Guidelines on Wetlands included. We need something mandatory. The Ministry of Environment should expedite the process of gazettes wetland maps for local authorities.

2) We urge duty bearers to develop or upgrade Master Plans for local authorities and these Master Plans must be informed by among other things, gazettes wetland maps. We are encouraged by the Ministry of Finance inclusion of a 2021 budget component on Master Plans development for Harare and Chitungwiza under purview of Ministry of Local Government. That should be a good starting point and lessons should be drawn from that exercise going forward.

3) We have argue for a long time that the current framework on Environmental Impact Assessment need strengthening and changes to deal with conflict of interest and separation of powers. Property developers are an interested party on EIAs and they cannot be part of engaging experts who should make determination of wetlands. The person who pays the piper calls the shots. Separation of powers is critical.

4) Review of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29:12).

5) Institutional restructuring to strengthen and improve coordination and answerability of duty bearers to citizens.

6) Sustainable wetlands preservation agenda is hinged on informed and willing citizens playing community stewardship role over the natural infrastructure of water. Preserving wetlands should not only be done out of fear of retributive justice arm of the law but it should be done because that is the correct thing to do. A grassroots movement of willing citizens ready to preserve wetlands as natural resources, remains part and parcel of any sound theory of change on wetlands.

CWA & CHRA takes note of the threats issued by the Environmental Management Agency regarding demolition of houses built on wetlands. We remain resolute on preservation of wetlands but we are opposed to solutions that target defenseless and vulnerable communities in high density suburbs whilst elites at POKUGARA in Borrowdale and Long Chen Plaza are allowed to decimate wetlands without consequences. We challenge the Environmental Management Agency to firstly target these two areas in Harare to demonstrate that the threats issued are not based on discrimination on the basis of class.

Source: Community Water Alliance & Combined Harare Residents Association