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‘Police downplaying environmental crimes’

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The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has accused police of being reluctant to arrest environmental law offenders, thereby making the public regard the agency as a toothless bulldog and disregarding advice against environmental degradation.

EMA director-general Mutsa Chasi on Tuesday told the Thematic Committee on the Millennium Development Goals that police were not taking environmental crimes seriously.

“Environmental crimes are rated lower than other crimes. The problem is that they look harmless. But how do you account for 25 lives lost in veld fires? It is as much criminal as the one who has killed somebody,” Chasi said.

EMA statistics show that 25 people were killed in veld fires during the 2010 fire season and Chasi said against that backdrop it was unfortunate that the law enforcement agencies did not take the matter seriously.

She said when they took Harare City Council to court over burst sewer pipes a few years back, the city was ordered to repair the pipes but it defied the order.

“We then approached the High Court with the matter, but they said it was not an urgent issue. But 3 000 people eventually died of cholera. The biggest challenge is how are we going to upscale it (environmental crime) so that it is regarded as the killer that it is. Environmental crime kills,” she said.

Chasi said 34 environmental cases had been brought before the courts but only one offender was given a custodial sentence.

EMA director of environment protection Petronella Shoko said: “The current sand extraction at illegal sites is excessive, to the extent of going to the road shoulders and the fields. We are working closely with local authorities to licence and monitor certain areas for legal extraction.”

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