By Wallace Mawire
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has come up with guidelines on the use of the country’s contentious wetlands for infrastructure and property developments.
In the past few years, Zimbabwe has been facing a major problem involving illegal property developments on its wetlands.
For instance, land barons have been accused of illegally parceling out land to desperate home-seekers in contravention of local authorities’ stipulated regulations and by-laws.
A case in point is the controversial multi-million dollar Long Cheng Plaza tourism investment project which saw local authorities in Harare clashing with tourism key players over the project established on a vast wetland near the National Sports stadium.
Nelton Mangezi, Principal Officer, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for EMA, said the agency had initiated wetlands utilisation guidelines at national level for permissible utilisation which can be sanctioned on certain wetlands for property developments.
Mangezi said there are legislative issues which also needed to be put into consideration when dealing with the wetlands issues. Some of the properties were acquired during the Rhodesian era. Mangezi added that under Section 113 of the EMA Act, the minister responsible may permit activities or projects on certain wetlands.
Although such developments are being put into consideration, wetlands by their nature are vital in flood control and water flow regulation, groundwater replenishment and water storage. They also play a role in sediment and nutrient retention and export.
Wetlands are key in water purification and are reservoirs of biodiversity. They are also key in recreation and tourism including climate change mitigation and adaptation. Wetlands help in filtering and cleaning water. They also trap rain water and prevent flash floodings thereby replenishing groundwater reservoirs. Stored water is also released slowly into streams during dry seasons and droughts.
It is also reported that commercial water abstraction draws water faster than it is replenished. Property developments on wetlands prevent water from seeping into the ground.
Wetlands are also the main source of water for streams and rivers that feeding into the lakes. They release water slowly into rivers and streams, even in the dry months when there is no surface water. They also store water underground, cleaning it as it passes through the plants and soil.
On the other hand, agricultural activities release silt and chemicals into water systems resulting in the total loss of wetland biodiversity.