BY VANESSA GONYE
AT least 61% of wetlands in Zimbabwe are moderately degraded and the country is likely to lose its entire natural water reservoirs by 2040 if efforts to conserve them are not strengthened, Environment minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu said yesterday.
Ndlovu said this at a virtual commemoration of the World Wetlands Day in Harare, where he bemoaned the destruction of wetlands, saying they should be preserved as they play a critical role in the prevention of floods, droughts and other natural disasters.
This year’s commemorations came at a time the country is grappling with floods, as well as illegal construction on wetlands.
“In Zimbabwe, wetlands make up approximately 4% of the country, including dams and lakes. Of the available wetlands, a meagre 21% are stable while 18% are severely degraded and 61% moderately degraded. As such, conservation and wise use of wetlands, therefore, becomes an unavoidable option for livelihood sustenance in this country,” Ndlovu said.
“It is sad to note that globally, we are losing wetlands three times faster than natural forests and wetland-dependent species are in serious decline. Consequently, about 87% of the global wetland resource has been lost since 1700,” he said.
Ndlovu said the flooding being experienced in various parts of the country is a true testimony of the vengeance of nature and failure to preserve wetlands.
Worldwide Fund for Nature country director Enos Shumba said wetlands covered 1,5% of Zimbabwe’s land area, but their size was rapidly declining due to population growth, urbanisation, housing and other infrastructural developments, increased reliance on streambank cultivation for food and nutrition security and illegal mining activities that silt major water sources.
“There is need for transparent and co-ordinated enforcement of wetland legislation and practices that minimise conflicts between sector interests buttressed by appropriate penalties and political will.
“The establishment of an independent environmental court could also give the public redress against transgressions on wetlands in particular, and the environment in general,” he said.
Shumba said there was need to provide incentives such as tax relief to companies that implement and support environmentally sustainable projects and provide for instruments that support mandatory environmental sustainability reporting and accounting by the private sector.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said: “The primary issues driving the loss of wetlands, the reduction of the source of the city’s water, are developments on wetlands — both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’, cultivation throughout the open spaces of the city and along stream banks, leading to degradation and invasive plant species, and pollution.”
Follow Vanessa onTwitter @vanessa_gonye