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THE ZIMBABWE CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION
Explicit objection to the proposed "Chirundu Project"
This communiqué serves as the First Phase of bringing to your attention, that the Zimbabwe Conservation Development Foundation (ZCDF), is privileged to have received substantiated information, that a structured group made up of farmers, business persons, companies and other independent stakeholders, have moved comprehensively towards launching Stage 1 of a 120,000 hectare agricultural development in the proclaimed Urungwe, Chewore and Sapi Safari Areas and the Mana Pools National Park bordering the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.
The immense proposed development, which is due to be launched on the 1st November 2005, purportedly with the approval of a senior government executive, whilst being treated with intense confidentiality, is profoundly distressing, in that the full extent of the project is destined to invade not only the natural and pristine Urungwe Safari Area, but a vast tract of land from Urungwe’s western boundary, across Mana Pools National Park, the Sapi Safari Area, to the Chewore Safari Areas’ eastern boundary, and ostensibly measuring plus 100 kilometres long and ten kilometres wide, with the Zambezi River as its northern boundary. This equates to 1,000 square kilometres, or 100,000 hectares.
The central component to the objection being registered, is that Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas were ratified as a World Heritage Site in 1984, Reference : 302, by the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritages.
The summary prepared by the IUCN (March 1984) based on the original nomination submitted by Zimbabwe, states that the area in question is under public ownership and protected by the Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975, and is managed by the Department of National Parks and Wild Life Management, and took into account, the contiguous status of Urungwe in the east and Dande in the west being proclaimed Safari Areas that afforded Mana Pools National Park and adjacent areas an auxiliary field of protection.
The areas under threat by the proposed Chirundu Project, constitute a total of 6,766 square kilometres and embrace the Miombo woodland/savannah bio-geographical provinces, all fronted on the lower Zambezi River and contains the last remaining natural stretch of the Middle Zambezi.
In the First Phase of information presented to the ZCDF, it is revealed that in excess of US$30 million worth of agricultural equipment in the form of extensive irrigation equipment, earthmoving machinery and heavy duty transport is in the final stages of being ordered. The contract for the construction of 600 low-cost houses in the area has already been awarded. Each phase of the Chirundu Project will be fenced-off from surrounding areas, effectively dissecting proclaimed natural areas.
The proposed Project, which includes the commercial growing of four main crops, cannot be permitted in any of these projected areas. The increased human and vehicular traffic, air, soil, water and waste pollution effects will be catastrophic to this highly sensitive region, which is already under severe threat by extensive poaching of fauna and flora, as well as by poor covenants of wildlife and habitat management practices.
The consequences of commercial agriculture in the region will be dire for well-developed communities of a diversity of trees and woodlands. Threat levels to a vast array of fauna will accelerate in the short term. Seasonal occurrences of larger mammals within the valley are of great inter and intra-species ecological value. The balances of these sensitivities will most certainly be disturbed in the immediate term.
A unique collection of Avifauna of over 380 species will come under severe threat, as will all common Zambezi River fish as an accessible protein and trading food through netting and other forms of illegal fishing. Valuable tourism will undoubtedly be negatively affected, as currently, these areas are internationally renowned and popular for their isolation and lack of commercial development, but mainly for its natural wildlife, habitat and environmental attractions. The exceptional natural magnificence of animals in the diverse woodlands parallel with the broader Zambezi River banks and flood plains, constitutes one of Africa's most outstanding wildlife spectacles, second only to perhaps the Ngorongoro National Park, but will be severely disturbed and preyed upon by poaching.
The geology of the entire region ranges from the recent river alluvia of the extensive valley floor to the ancient gneiss and para-gneiss overlaid by lithosols of the basement complex. Intermittent protrusions of basalt rock beds, accompanied by dominant overburdens of Kalahari Sand complexes, clearly make the area unsuitable for commercial agriculture.
It could be argued that sustained agriculture in this specific instance, might be defined to mean a farming practice that has a site-specific application, that apart from anticipated food production, should in the immediate term, a) enhance environmental quality and the natural resources upon which this project’s agricultural success will depend and b) make the most efficient use of integrated natural biological cycles and control resources. However, it is common fact that under current holistically unsuccessful farming processes in Zimbabwe, neither the environment nor the natural resources of the area will be enhanced, and efficient use of natural biological cycles and necessary controls will certainly be compromised by known ambiguous management techniques.
Due to the low sandy soil values over much of the area, the Chirundu Project will inevitably have to apply vast amounts of fertilisers to enhance yields to viable levels, as well as administer subterranean and open-air dispersed pest control chemicals, both of which would inescapably contaminate surrounding areas, and hence, negatively impact on neighbouring natural biodiversities.
The proposed project by virtue of irrigated lands, would require massive areas (up to 120,000 hectares) to be cleared, tilled and cultivated, together with an extensive network of basic service roads. Owing to the soil structures and composition, comprehensive sheet and gully erosion is certain to occur during the rainfall seasons, compounded by storm-water run-off carrying insecticides and other obnoxious agricultural chemicals and heavy machinery fuels, oils and greases spillage directly into small streams, secondary rivers and ultimately into the Zambezi River. The harmful consequences of this in the medium and longer term will undoubtedly be catastrophic.
It is highly improbable that the proposed 600 low-cost housing units will be electrified, indicating that heating for cooking purposes will be derived from wood-burning, which in turn will be generated from wood collected in surrounding areas and external to the confines of the project. It furthermore suggests that trees will be injudiciously hacked down for this purpose when supplies of close-proximity dry wood are depleted. Smoke generation from 600 wood-burning facilities will extensively pollute the air of the Zambezi Valley. This cannot be permitted to happen.
Through the inevitable process of wood collecting, local inhabitants will resort to poaching of various callous means to supplement diets, if not to take advantage of commercial poaching prospects along the potentially lucrative main Zimbabwe/Zambia highway. These barbaric practices are already and completely out of control in Zimbabwe and the proposed development will merely augment large scale poaching. Again, this predictable threat cannot be ignored.
The area forms a large conservation unit for most spontaneously functioning ecological processes and are protected by natural barriers from encroachment and alternative land-use. This pertains to the Zambezi River in the north, the mountainous escarpment in the south, with the strong prevalence of tropical diseases such as tripanosomosiasis (sleeping sickness), malaria and bilharzia. These occurrences result in the area being unsuitable for human habitation and domestic livestock, which will undeniably arise out of commercialising the area. Thus the reasons to prevent development, go well beyond that of just the threat to the natural bio-diversities of the region.
According to documents submitted to the ZCDF, the specifications on pumping requirements for the Chirundu Project’s irrigation needs, clearly indicates pumping of massive volumes of water from the Zambezi River over extensive distances. It is highly unlikely that permission has been secured from the tri-lateral accord on the Zambezi River water usage that exists between Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is furthermore unlikely, that any agreement between the projects developer’s and Zimbabwe’s water-management authorities has been conducted transparently, as this forms an integral component of the non-existent Environmental Impact Assessment, which the Department of Natural Resources has not received nor has it invited a proposal for one.
The Second Phase of this communiqué will reveal to the ZCDF in the very near future, further detailed information pertaining to the Chirundu Project’s exact surveyed areas of proposed development, as well as the identities of the principle developers and an array of suppliers.
As a result of substantiated information provided to date, and given that no known key stakeholders nor interested persons or groups have been consulted on the matter, the ZCDF is hereby lodging a rigorous objection to the pending Chirundu Project, and issues an urgent appeal to all local, regional and international role players active in defending natural heritages, in this case, a World Heritage Site and contiguous protected areas, to earnestly call upon the Government of Zimbabwe and the projects developers, to cease with the project or any portion thereof, forthwith.
The ZCDF extends an invitation to all concerned individuals, organisations, institutions, foundations, trusts, regional authorities and international governments to endorse this appeal by responding in writing to the ZCDF to the undermentioned addresses, stating support for the organisation’s position on the proposed Chirundu Project.
Chief Executive Officer
Zimbabwe Conservation and Development Foundation
Dr John Fulton
Zimbabwe Conservation and Development Foundation
P O Box MP
Fax : 263 4 339065
Mobile : 263 11 603 213 or 091 234 349