Desmond Munemo, H-Metro Reporter
The City of Harare has no plans or initiatives to protect its wetland areas amid water crisis with the capital’s water system under threat.
According to the final report of the Special Committee (land sales and leases) appointed by Harare mayor Herbert Gomba, it exposed the ineptitude of the council to deal with the unresolved wetlands issue.
The SC investigations revealed that City of Harare has extensive network of wetlands, but these have been deliberately affected through illegal occupations, unlawful developments by private individuals as well as approved development permits by the City of Harare.
The protection of wetlands falls under City Planning Department of Works.
Director of works Engineer Isiah Chawatama confirmed in the investigations that there is no single activity or initiative in the City of Harare to protect wetland areas.
The City of Harare departments, which have been tasked to protect wetlands, Director of works Eng Chawatama, Land Development Control Manager Priscilla Charumbira and Chief Town Planning Officer Samuel Nyabeza are approving commercial abstraction of water on wetlands for example in Greystone Park, Tafara wetland area where a brick construction company is operating and other various areas in Harare.
The SC cited, in the report, that it received reports from the Audit Manager of the Survey Technician Chikoore who conducted personal surveys on council land.
The SC recommended that all developments on wetlands be demolished, all contacts and permits on wetlands to e renegotiated or cancelled as this affects the normal functioning of wetlands.
The Committee also recommended that the City of Harare be declared a wetland City and mechanisms and support be sought from the Ramsar secretariat to access resources for the protection of wetlands.
The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
After an uproar from various affected sectors, the SC recommended the department of planning be divorced from that of Works as coordination challenges were identified and no tangible branded office which attends to wetlands issues.
Section 113 of the EMA act states that it’s an offence to reclaim or drain any wetland; adversely affect any animal or plant life on a wetland; introduce any exotic or plant species into the wetland or disturb any wetland by drilling or tunneling in a manner that has or likely to have adverse impact.
However, many wetlands have been drained for construction purposes like one in Tynwald North area where a private school is being built.
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) wetland area has been planted a lot of exotic tree and a service station is reported to be put up on the same UZ wetland.
In a published document, Lawyers for Human Rights have come out with questions why laws and procedures fail to protect wetlands.
“If fully and properly implemented, these laws should provide adequate protection for Harare’s wetlands.
“The laws, however, are not being fully and properly implemented.
“Frequently, the legislation is ignored or deliberately misrepresented and distorted in order to meet various objectives which are at variance to meet the needs of wetlands,” reads part of the report.
The document also cited that none within the Department of Works had any expertise or training on environmental issues.
Recommendations stated that all wetlands should be mapped with expert input and their territorial footprint be legislated.
The constitution should provide for an establishment of an independent Environmental Commission, which performs the functions of protecting and investigate violations that have to do with the environmental issues.
Legislation must clarify that the City of Harare cannot grant developmental permits on wetlands, whether conditionally or otherwise, without compliance with the provisions designed to protect wetlands.
Parliament should ensure that there is strict compliance with the requirement to submit statutory reports on activities of EMA and the state of the environment.