“Wetlands Action for People and Nature”
February 2nd each year is World Wetlands Day. It is a day the world commemorates the importance of wetlands in natural ecosystems, particularly in the face of climate change, droughts and flooding. Wetlands are stores of fresh water and carbon sinks. However, in the past few years, wetlands have been disappearing worldwide due to pressure from human settlement and commercial and industrial development.
This year’s international theme is:
“A call to take action for wetlands”, it is an appeal for governments to invest financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those that have been degraded.
The Zimbabwean Situation
The government has lost control of so-called “land barons” – influential individuals and corporate bodies that have seized public land including wetlands to carry out residential, commercial and industrial developments without regard to the law or the impact on the environment. These developments are usually regularised in retrospect. Harare, the capital has seen many housing developments in wetlands. These developments have taken place in Belvedere, Mbare, Budiriro, Prospect Park, Tafara, Westlea, Southlea, Mazowe, Gwebi, and Marimba among others.
Many Harare suburbs such as in Chitungwiza, Budiriro, Southlea Park and Tafara have been flooded during this and previous rainy seasons. Houses built in wetlands are particularly susceptible to flooding.
There are deficiencies in the Environmental Management Act, which imposes strict controls on the development of wetlands. Most glaring are the small fines payable for regularisation of developments that have taken place without environmental impact studies and without approval from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). Unscrupulous land barons feel free to develop properties outside the law knowing full well they can pay any fines the EMA may impose.
Perhaps the most serious defect lies in the lack of monitoring and enforcement. Whether through corruption or fear of political reprisals, law enforcement agents at national and local levels allow wetlands to be seized and developed, and do not take action until irreparable damage has been done to the environment.
The central government and local authorities should increase surveillance on developments that are taking place in order to ensure strict adherence to the law. Ordinary citizens can play their part too by reporting illegal developments. The authorities must take immediate steps to prevent any development that contravenes the law. Only if this is done will wetlands remain undisturbed.
Harare water supplies
The capital city has been facing serious water shortages and pollution of its water sources. Most of its water sources such as Mukuvisi, Marimba, Gwebi and Manyame have been affected by developments which choke the streams.
It is imperative that the government and all local authorities take action on developments in wetlands, and reclaim those that have been degraded. Zimbabwe and its citizens must protect wetlands for the benefit of future generations. We must all play our part in protecting the environment in order to save our people from the ravages of climate change.