BY RICHARD MUPONDE
PEOPLE that built houses and businesses on wetlands must expect demolitions after the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) ordered them to vacate the land before it institutes prosecutions or demolitions of the buildings once a new law on preservation of wetlands is gazetted.
Some of the places that could be affected by the mass demolitions are Harare and Chitungwiza.
EMA is mandated through the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) section 113 to prosecute anyone found carrying out any activity that is likely to cause degradation of a wetland without authority from the agency.
The new development comes as the environmental agency yesterday said it had observed with keen interest the flooding of houses built on wetlands in Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru.
Already, demolitions have been executed in Harare and Chitungwiza, while there are reports that around 11 000 residential and commercial buildings that were built on illegally-owned land would be demolished in the dormitory town.
Harare is said to have over 30 000 illegal settlements, comprising mostly land which was illegally sold by barons.
Last month, about 200 illegal structures were demolished in Budiriro high-density suburb.
EMA education and public relations manager Amkela Sidange said people who settled on wetlands should move away before the law took its course.
“EMA is still also urging those settled on wetlands and along stream banks to move away from those areas, and to stop wetland and streambank cultivation, for the good of the environment and that of public health. It’s time for the public to uphold ‘the prevention is better than cure’ agenda in environmental management by following all necessary guidance given by the agency and other relevant authorities, and in the process protect the environment and the health of the public,” Sidange said in a statement.
“Chief among these activities is cultivating and infrastructural developments in wetlands and along streambanks. On that note, the agency is urging the public not to buy stands in areas they suspect to be wetlands or when they are not sure of the extent of their ecologically sensitivity, as doing so will result in delays in development or even loss of investment when development is rejected on site suitability, or even prosecution for developments in ecologically sensitive areas without authority from the agency,” she said.
Sidange continued: “The agency carries out ecological assessments for free. However, the agency does not allocate land, but only ensures that any proposed development is ecologically sound, socially acceptable and environmentally safe. The public should remain vigilant, and notify the agency when they suspect any developments in wetland areas without authority.”
She said EMA was currently working on the gazetting of all ecologically sensitive areas in line with section 113 of Environmental Management Act (CAP 20:27), for the City of Harare and Municipality of Chitungwiza, to ring fence wetlands as protected areas.
“And this will come with ecologically sensitive area maps for the two local authorities as well. Also, the agency is currently working on formalising wetland management guidelines, which will give a generic standard guide to the management of wetlands in Zimbabwe, and both processes are now at stakeholder consultation stage to conform to section 136 of the same Act, on rules of natural justice, which advocates for public consultation and inclusion in decision making on matters of the management of the environment.”
She said a wetland management policy was at draft stage but is expected to be gazetted before the end of this year.
EMA has refused to approve about 20 infrastructural developments from co-operatives and businesses on wetlands, especially in Budiriro, Msasa and Alexander Park.
National Housing minister Daniel Garwe confirmed the development, saying people should take EMA’s warning of impending demolitions seriously, as there was no going back on the issue.
“That’s a clear warning from EMA. Nothing can be said further than that,” Garwe told NewsDay.
However, Chitungwiza Progressive Residents Association secretary-general Gift Kurupati dismissed EMA’s threats, saying it was government’s ploy to justify the mooted demolitions of people’s houses in Chitungwiza and Harare.
“The first thing is, if it is the issue of flooding, yes, people should vacate, not only those in wetlands. Floods can affect everyone everywhere. Just look at what happened to the people of Chimanimani. It’s not the issue of wetlands. The major contributor to those flash floods which we are now experiencing in Harare and Chitungwiza are not emanating from wetlands, but from poor drainage systems,” he said.
“What worries us as residents is that regulatory authorities like EMA always talk about wetlands that are occupied by the poor. If it pertains to areas like Longcheng in Belvedere, Nyaradzo Funeral Services in Chitungwiza and Old Mutual Shopping Mall in Chitungwiza, all these buildings are on wetlands, but are they going to demolish them?”
Chitungwiza Residents Trust director Alice Kuveya said residents would not move an inch until authorities order the land barons to refund them as the land was being sold under their noses.
“Firstly, they must make sure all land barons who have sold land, built their schools in wetlands are arrested and then they must compensate the residents and council if they are true to themselves. We have funeral parlours in wetlands, if they can start with them, that’s great,” she said.
“All these residents didn’t just wake up on wetlands. They are paying to councils. We have seen EMA issuing licences to parlours to build on wetlands. We can’t vacate now, not after 10 years or more and paying to council.”
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director Precious Shumba said the intervention by EMA was rather late, yet it was progressive and important in ending illegal settlements.
“The HRT totally supports the position that all houses built on wetlands should be demolished when all legal requirements have been met. But demolitions cannot be executed now during the rainy season,” he said.
“The local authorities should first make available alternative land for housing developments for the victims of illegal settlements and corruption. The known criminals who sold the stands to desperate home-seekers should be prosecuted without hesitation. There is sufficient evidence.”