WIDESPREAD destruction of the country’s wetlands has continued unchecked despite a raft of legal instruments that criminalise such activities, an official with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has said.
Report by Phillip Chidavaenzi
Alleta Nyahuye, the environmental planning and monitoring manager with EMA, told a recent stakeholder meeting that mineral panning, housing developments, agricultural and industrial activities were among the leading causes of wetland degradation.
“Housing construction and industrial activity depletes the water table and gives rise to pollution of underground water,” she said.
If the destruction of wetlands was not halted, she said, projections by the Institute of Water and Sanitation that by 2025 there would be water scarcity in Zimbabwe would be fulfilled.
Laws that criminalise wetland abuse include the Environmental Management Act, Regional, Town and Country Planning Act, Urban Councils Act and Traditional Leaders Act.
The demand for housing in Harare has seen the city authorities parcelling out land in areas that had been preserved as wetlands, some of which are not fit for construction. According to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, the water table, which used to be 15-18m below the earth surface, had gone down to 30m in some areas of Harare.
Nyahuye said there was need for wetlands to be utilised in a way that did not affect ecological functions, such as creation of parks and golf courses, adding that improper wetlands use had extensive negative consequences.
“It leads to pollution of underground water. Housing developments result in the construction of septic tanks that drain into soak-aways, which, in most cases are not connected to main sewer channels,” she said.
In 2011, Zimbabwe became a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, which aims to prevent the loss and degradation of wetlands worldwide and ensure they are used sustainably.
Environment and Natural Resources Management minister Francis Nhema recently said his ministry should be given more authority to stop local authorities from allocating stands on wetlands.
Nhema admitted the ministry had no power to stop local authorities from allocating stands on wetlands.
“What the local authorities do after we have given them enough information on whether or not they should develop is not within our jurisdiction, but we strongly feel that we should be given authority so that these wetlands can continue to be preserved,” he said.
The country has seven protected wetland sites which include Monavale Vlei, Cleveland Dam, Chinhoyi Caves, Mana Pools, Victoria Falls, Driefontein Grasslands and Lake Chivero.