By Wallace Mawire
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Harare Wetlands Trust (HWT) have welcomed the report of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism on wetlands management, presented to parliament in February 2020.
The report was prepared in response to submissions made by ZLHR and HWT to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism on wetlands management on 28 January 2019.
A field tour of affected sites by HWT in February 2019 and a wetlands legislative review meeting with ZLHR and HWT, was conducted on 20 March 2019.
Wetlands are areas of land that are flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently.
ZLHR and HWT called on parliament to protect wetlands in the context of the City of Harare, the Ministry of Environment, Water, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).
Increasingly, authorising developments on wetlands including on internationally protected sites such as Monavale Vlei and widespread illegal developments taking place on wetlands have resulted in continued degradation of Harare’s wetlands, depriving the city of its vital ecosystem services.
In addition, wetlands are like giant sponges, absorbing and purifying water which would otherwise be mostly lost as run-off.
The water absorbed throughout the rainy season is slowly released in the dry season into the stream and river systems around the city, finding its way into the major water sources supplying the city, such as Lake Chivero and Manyame Dam.
Without wetlands, the water sources would quickly run dry in winter months and poor rainy seasons.
Concerns raised by ZLHR and HWT included the inordinate amount of power and discretion wielded by a few individuals and the lack of transparency in the processes of granting of development permits and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificates for development on wetlands.
The decision makers have seemingly favoured the short-term benefits of developments, such as revenue income from levies and rates, without proper consideration of the environmental impact in the long-term.
Against this backdrop, ZLHR and HWT commend the Parliament Portfolio Committee for calling on the state to take urgent measures to curb persistent wetlands destruction in Harare. ZLHR and HWT specifically agreed with recommendations for the re-establishment of the National Environmental Council, as an expert advisory body to the environment minister.
They also agreed to the establishment of an Environmental Commission, as an independent commission to report on environmental issues and the establishment of an Environmental Tribunal with punitive jurisdiction over violations of environmental laws and to ensure checks and balances and objective assessments of the ecological issues in the decision-making processes.
ZLHR and HWT further recommend that a specialised environmental police unit with expertise on environmental issues be established.
The two institutions ZLHR and HWT have called upon the Ministry of Environment to review and update the National Environmental Plan, and to develop Local Authority Environmental Action Plans, as recommended, in a manner recognising the importance and protection of wetlands.
Such plans will complement the long-outstanding process of updating the Harare Master Plan, , of which ZLHR and HWT pushed for its urgent completion.
Most importantly, ZLHR and HWT, support the recommendation for the Minister of Environment to map all wetlands, with expert input, and have their territorial footprint gazetted by December 2020.
The two organizations also welcomed the recommendation for domestication of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterflow Habitat and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
They called on the government to urgently take measures to protect Ramsar Sites under threat, such as Monavale Vlei, and for the speedy completion of the Wetland City Accreditation application process by the Harare City Council and EMA.
The accreditation would promote and support Harare as a ‘wetland city’ committed to the protection of its water source.
In terms of the Ramsar Convention, seven sites in Zimbabwe have been designated as “Ramsar protected wetlands” covering 28,582,40 hectares and these are; Victoria Falls, Driefontein Grasslands, Lake Chivero, Middle Zambezi/Mana Pools, Chinhoyi Caves, Monavale Vlei and Cleveland Dam.
ZLHR and HWT also commended the call for the review of development permits unlawfully issued without EIA certificates, public consultation, and without the approval of the relevant catchment councils.
The recommendation is supported by critical recommendations made on unlawful sale and developments on wetlands in the Report by the Special Committee of Council on Commercial Land Sales and Leases in the City of Harare on 24 June 2019.
It is recommended that investigations also be conducted into unlawful issuances of EIA certificates, change of use of local plans and ministerial decisions affecting core wetlands.
ZLHR and HWT endorsed and commended the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism on Wetlands Management’s comprehensive recommendations.
They called on Parliament and the Executive to urgently implement them in accordance with the government’s obligations, as a state party to the Ramsar Convention and in terms of Sections 73 and 77 of the Constitution, to protect the environment and water resources for present and future generations.