Environmental offences place recovery in jeopardy

Environment, Climate and Tourism minister Mangaliso Ndlovu

CONCERN over environmental degradation has been rising across the world. Governments are implementing various agreements to addres the crisis. Our Business Reporter (ND), Freeman Makopa, yesterday spoke to Environment, Climate and Tourism minister Mangaliso Ndlovu (MN) to understand what progress has been made in Zimbabwe.

ND: There has been a notion that Chinese-owned mines and firms have been violating environmental laws. What measures have you put in place to alleviate the problem?

MN: The second republic values the significant role of minerals in the national economy. For this reason, it has rebuilt the mining sector towards a $1,8 trillion economy. It is our main contributor to GDP. Government has intensified actions towards environmental rehabilitation in mining areas.

This is a massive undertaking that we must support in the National Development Strategy (NDS1) (2021-2025) and Vision (2030) in order to intensively grow our economy and achieve an upper middle-income status much earlier.

At the same time, as we look ahead, we must recognise that much of the environmental damages are historical, going back to the late 1890s. Some areas will be difficult to rehabilitate.

Most recently, we sat before a joint sitting of committee on environment, mining and local government to present government position on the Greenpool of Mutorashanga. We also investigated the Hwange coal fire fissures in Matabeleland North province. In all cases, we have realised that past mining activities are a big contributor to environmental damage.

ND: Don’t you think green pools also offer investment opportunities?

MN: Some offer new opportunities. In tourism, we are closely examining this with expert assessments. I am sure based on this take, the new surge in mining has seen different types of mining companies and investors. Our artisanal mining have also played a big role across mineral sectors. It is, therefore, trite to mention one nationality in the mining sector. We certainly as a ministry place premium on environmental impact assessment (EIA) based on the Environmental Management Act. It is our responsibility to leave a secure environment for current and future generations.

ND: Tell us about environmental levies.

MN: We are undertaking intensive national consultations on the Environmental Management Act to ensure that we have an operational fund specific to the environment for the purposes of regulation of the sector.

We also need the fund to address environmental offences that threaten communities. As indicated earlier, land degradation needs a systematic government response. The environment levy will serve this purpose. In terms of its structure on the levy, our expectation is that it will have a strong governance body that assist me as the minister.

ND: What could happen if Africa fast tracks climate change policies?

MN: Our country is one of the most affected and at risk of climate change. The most recent report by the African Development Bank and UNEP shows that of the five out of 10 most affected countries in Africa, Zimbabwe is number two. This independent baseline survey informs us that our country is worse-off, and that going forward we remain at risk. We have been locating this problem for many years.

We deliberately and way ahead crafted the Climate Change policy as early as 2015, established a department of climate change, and came up with a raft of policies on renewable energy, biofuels for the transport sector, gender sensitive climate response strategy, and we are moving towards a waste and pollution policy among others.

We are undertaking serious climate change work in several areas that also include the built-environment, clean smart cities, smart climate agriculture for food security, water resources management that incorporates catchment management, biodiversity conservation and pollution control to contribute to net zero carbon emission by 2040, which is part of our international commitment to the 1.50C by 2030.

ND: And there has been construction of residential and commercial properties on wetlands?

MN: Government policy prohibits the construction of any property on wetlands. We have a standing wetlands policy passed by Cabinet. In 2021, we developed a National Wetlands Masterplan. This contributed to the development of a wetlands map that should guide any form of construction throughout the country. Even before I elaborate our policy and regulation role, let me say that housing development has been a national pride.

Across the breath of the country, Zimbabweans are building and we are encouraging national housing development to ensure decent housing for all. While we construct popular houses for mostly the poor, government makes sure that construction is preceded by an EIA.

However, we have noted with concern that local authorities and housing co-operatives have been allocating land on wetlands, which under the wetlands policy and the EMA law is strictly prohibited. We have prohibited construction where these have cropped up.

ND: Tell us about the deforestation crisis.

MN: Energy is a key requirement for our households. We already know that 60% of our population depend on wood fuel for energy. We have lost significant forests countrywide, and our cities are not as green as we wish. The commoditisation of wood in general is a key concern to us as a ministry.

We have undertaken blitz to arrest, ticket and confiscate wood piles in most road servitudes and known wood selling areas. In any case, this is worrisome, given that 67% of the population the majority who are women depend on rainfed agriculture for food security.

The international agreement and our own desire is to replace fossil fuels with better energy. In addition, we are encouraging mini-hydros and priority for the Batoka Gorge power plant with a projected output of 2 400 megawatts (MW) to be shared with Zambia.

At the end of this year, Hwange 7 & 8 will contribute 600MW to the national grid. The design of the new plant has taken clean energy infrastructure through pollution control monitoring and reduction. By 2023, there would be energy grid stability, less load-shedding and an increase in rural energy supply through the Rural Energy Agency.

ND: Zimbabwe has been grappling with land degradation caused by illegal gold miners and sand poachers.

MN: The second republic takes serious issues of environmental offences that affect society and our economic prospects. Be that as it may, our country depends on energy for socio-economic development. This means we always have to balance the contradictions. By this I mean that we have to develop our economics for the benefit of our country and people.

ND: The country has 20 Acts and nearly 40 statutory laws to protect the environment. How effective are they?

MN: We have to streamline them. We have been doing this with the main laws that include the review of the Environmental Management Act. This will be streamlined in line with the 2013 Constitution. Our teams have been undertaking public consultations. We are seeking the support of the media, such as yourselves to educate the public. Our prospects of economic development and growth are threatened by environmental offenses. Even when we mainstream, we will still have a dozen or more laws, as some must exist to deal with specific matters.

ND: Are you going to review fines?

MN: The least we want to do is to spend our time and efforts in charging environmental offenders. In our ministry, we are a “brand” image builder and we deal with images and perceptions of our country. The less time we spend time in courts the better for us and our citizens.

The carelessness of some members of our society is what irks us and forces us to fine the citizens who are irresponsible. As a government and ministry, we won’t stand to watch. This is because at the end the burden has to be shouldered by government through a huge health bill that the public expects us to fund.

ND: Illegal construction has affected water provision in Harare. How true is that?

MN: We do not dispute the scientific findings and we want to use these to improve our regulations, institutional reaction and design of packages to limit and eliminate the ecological damage. Government and local authorities have regularly tried to address this problem, with major outcries.

Our situation as government is “damned we do, damned we don’t”. This is a reason you see us sitting together with stakeholders to address the environmental ills that comes from “illegal” construction, mining, sand poaching, pollution, wildlife poaching, and others.

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