Council paying lip service to wetlands protection 

Source: Council paying lip service to wetlands protection | The Herald October 2, 2019

Desmond Munemo Correspondent
City of Harare has no plans or initiatives to protect Harare wetlands amid potable water supply challenges as the city’s water supply system is under threat.

The final report of the Special Committee (SC) on land sales and leases in the City of Harare appointed by Mayor Herbert Gomba exposed the ineptitude of the council in dealing with the unresolved wetlands issue.

The SC investigations revealed that City of Harare has an extensive network of wetlands, but these have been deliberately affected through illegal occupations, unlawful developments by private individuals as well as approved development by the City of Harare.

The protection of wetlands falls under the Department of Works. Director of Works Engineer Isiah Chawatama confirmed in the investigations that there is no single activity or initiative in the City of Harare to protect wetlands.

The City of Harare heads of departments which have been tasked to protect wetlands, Director of Works Eng Chawatama, Land Development Control Manager Priscilla Charumbira and Chief Town Planning Officer Samuel Nyabeza are approving commercial abstraction of water on wetlands, for example, in Greystone Park and Tafara where a brick construction company is operating, and various other areas in Harare.

A senior survey technician who works for one of the departments charged with protecting the wetlands, was also investigated for improper and irregular conduct in managing and surveying commercial land.

The SC cited in the report that it received reports from the audit manager of the survey technician, who conducted personal surveys on council land.

In the report, the SC emphasised in its recommendations that all developments on wetlands should be demolished, and that all contracts and permits on wetlands be renegotiated, or cancelled as they affected the normal functioning of wetlands.

The committee also recommended that the City of Harare be declared a wetland city, and mechanisms and support be sought from the Ramsar secretariat to access resources for the protection of wetlands.

The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

After an uproar from various affected sectors, the SC recommended that the Department of Planning be divorced from that of Works as coordination challenges were identified. There is no office specifically designated to deal with wetlands issues.

Section 113 of the EMA Act states that it’s an offence to reclaim or drain any wetland; adversely affect any animal or plant life on a wetland; introduce any exotic or plant species into the wetland or disturb any wetland by drilling or tunnelling in a manner that has or is likely to have adverse impact.

However, many wetlands have been drained for construction purposes like the one in the Tynwald North area where a private school is being built.

The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) wetland area has had a lot of exotic trees planted, and a service station is reportedly being constructed.

In a published document, Lawyers for Human Rights have questioned why existing laws are failing to protect wetlands.

“If fully and properly implemented, these laws should provide adequate protection for Harare’s wetlands. The laws, however, are not being fully and properly implemented.

“Frequently, the legislation is ignored or deliberately misrepresented and distorted in order to meet various objectives which are at variance to meet the needs of wetlands,” read the publication.

The document also cited that none of the Department of Works staffers had any expertise or training in environmental issues.

Recommendations stated that all wetlands should be mapped with expert input and their territorial footprints legislated.

The Constitution should provide for the establishment of an independent Environmental Commission, which performs the functions of protecting and investigating violations to do with environmental issues.

Legislation must make it clear that the City of Harare cannot grant developmental permits on wetlands, whether conditionally or otherwise, without compliance with the provisions designed to protect such areas.

Parliament should ensure that there is strict compliance with the need to submit statutory reports on EMA’s activities and the state of the environment.