By Nyasha N. Mukapiko
Future generations in Harare might never live to know about wetlands and reasons for their preservation they are fast being decimated for housing and agriculture.
Wetlands play an important role in water purification and are also a source for biodiversity.
Early this year, Harare residents who had built their houses on wetlands in some parts of Glenview and Budiriro were left stranded following the heavy rains that pounded during the 2016/17 farming season.
Harare has over 30 wetlands which are at risk from land barons who have been fleecing desperate home seekers their hard-earned cash and illegally parcelling out land.
Zimbabwe became a signatory of the Ramsar treaty in 2011. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is also known as the Convention on Wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the Convention was signed in 1971.
Zimbabwe has seven wetlands that are designated as Ramsar sites under the convention notably: Monavale Vlei, Cleveland Dam, Mana Pools, Lake Chivero and Manyame, Chinhoyi Caves, Victoria Falls National Park and Driefontein Grasslands.
Last month, Harare City Council (HCC) urgently rushed and dispatched municipal police officers to Monavale Vlei to deal with land barons after reports of invasion.
Speaking to journalist HCC Mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, said construction is not allowed on a designated wetland.
“We are here to try and arrest what seemed to be an encroachment on a wetland area. There is a housing cooperative that has been moving to this site grading a road, allocating stands and we have seen … construction of cabins …
“So … if we blink for a day or two a new encroachment takes place. If we close our eyes a little bit (in) another two or three weeks, this place will be fully occupied by illegal occupants building on this wetland.
That’s why we are here. We have to stop it and we are going to bring our municipal officers,” Manyenyeni said.
Speaking during the same site visit, Community Water Alliance co-ordinator, Hardlife Mudzingwa, said there is conflict between preservation of wetlands and demand for housing which needs continuous assessment and balance.
Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Regulations (SI) 7 of 2007, which falls under the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), provides for the protection of wetlands.
EMA is a statutory body established under the Environmental Management Act (CAP 20:27) which is responsible for ensuring sustainable utilisation of natural resources and protection of the environment. It is a parastatal under the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.
In an interview, EMA spokesperson, Steady Kangata, said invasions of wetlands were common in Harare and its dormitory town of Chitungwiza adding that other urban and rural areas were doing well in terms of their conservation.
Kangata said they have been advocating for protection of wetlands since the inception of EMA and as clearly enshrined in the Environmental Management Act’s Section 113.
“We have highlighted the issue of climate change. In the event of a drought, wetlands can simply recharge our water bodies such as rivers and in the event of floods, wetlands will absorb excess water and control floods,” Kangata said.