Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
A report by Special Committee (SC) on commercial land sales and leases in Harare has exposed rampant corruption to the extent that 32 areas designated as wetlands are being illegally developed, under the nose of the MDC-run Harare City Council.
The law is clear on the protection of wetlands in Zimbabwe.
Section 34 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that, “the State must ensure that all international conventions, treaties and agreements to which the country is a party are incorporated to the domestic law”.
The Environmental Management Act (CAP 20:27) and Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 on Environmental Management (EIA and Ecosystems Protection Regulations) govern wetland utilisation in Zimbabwe.
In addition, the Regional Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29:12), the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15), and Administrative Court Act (Chapter 7:01) all regulate development, especially on wetlands.
Wetlands play an important role in water purification and are also a source for biodiversity.
The committee chaired by Councillor Charles Nyatsuro invited director of works, Engineer Isiah Chawatama, land and development control manager Mrs Priscilla Charumbira, chief town planning officer Mr Samuel Nyabeza and senior survey technician Mr Chikoore to answer questions related to preservation of wetlands.
It also invited stakeholders working with City of Harare in the preservation of wetlands, including Harare Wetlands Trust, Monavale Residents’ Association, Nyahuni Catchment Area and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
In its findings the committee said City of Harare has an extensive network of wetlands, but these have been deliberately exploited through illegal occupation, unlawful developments by private individuals as well as approved development by the city fathers.
There is no single activity or initiative in the last three years to protect wetlands in Harare, and this was confirmed by Eng Chawatama, a serious concern that threatens the city’s water system.
The SC learned that there are cartels comprising council and are non-council employees who have captured the city and taken over council duties.
According to the report, City of Harare largely depends on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) conducted by independent consultants hired by property developers and development certificates issued by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).
“The committee contends that the EIAs and EMA certificates are subjective and require further investigation by the City of Harare. The land development and control manager confirmed this position,” reads the report.
“The City of Harare is the local planning authority and has a duty to reject permits that invade wetlands. There seems to be no understanding of what wetlands are. This is worrying and there needs to be a concerted internal education effort.”
Further the SC in its investigations explored activities affecting wetlands through field visits and in-depth interviews, and found out by far the biggest threat to wetlands is unregulated development (squatter camps) and “illegally” approved developments on wetlands by private developers and City of Harare. Another threat noted by the report is urban agriculture practised widely in Harare, and the city now has no reserved spaces for urban agriculture, as is the case in Bulawayo.
The SC said the pressure from growing populations and a ballooning waiting list coupled with lack of programmes to effectively regulate development and availability of homes, has added pressure on wetlands.
Investigations by the SC also unearthed that City of Harare is approving commercial abstraction of water on wetlands, for example in Greystone Park, and this disturbs the natural function of wetlands leading to many streams drying up in Harare.
The report shows that officials involved in allocation and planning did not follow standard procedures in terms of Section 152 of the Urban Council Act (Chapter 29:15).
This has led the city fathers to abuse their power while destroying wetlands, which are crucial to the city’s ecosystem as they reduce impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality.
They also provide habitats for animals and plants, and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else.
Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and other relevant authorities should look into the matter immediately, and end this scourge of corruption at Town House.
Regional Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told delegates at a biodiversity workshop organised recently by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that it was critical for Government to reclaim all wetlands, which were being wrongly designated for housing and property development, to help prevent the loss of the country’s fragile habitats.
“Government must immediately buy back all wetlands to restore the country’s water ecosystem, something that could avert water shortages in future. It is not about climate change, but it is about us. A deep transformative approach is required to make this possible,” he said.
Wetlands are also handy in purifying and replenishing ground water. They act as sponges in holding water during the rainy season before releasing it slowly to the surface. They are buffer zones that reduce flooding and mitigate against climatic disasters such as droughts.
Harare Wetlands Trust projects manager Selestino Chari told The Herald that they are yet to receive the report by the SC. He implored Harare Council to work together with Government to preserve wetlands.
“We have not seen the report of the land special committee on land sales. We will be following up with the office of the mayor, but it is our hope that all the recommendations made in the report be implemented to protect the wetlands, and safeguard enough and safe water for Harare residents,” he said.
“We agree with other stakeholders that the water situation should be declared a national disaster, but we call upon the Government and our city fathers to work together and incorporate residents’ input for a long-term solution on the water situation. We need to desist from cosmetic solutions as it has proved to be costly in service delivery.”
The report recommended that developments on wetlands must be demolished, and all contracts and permits thereon renegotiated or cancelled.
In addition, the SC said the city council must stop commercial abstraction of water from wetlands as this affects the normal functioning of wetlands.