By Nyasha Chingono
Thousands of homes built on wetlands face demolition. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has, for some time, raised the red flag over the growing environmental hazard posed by the illegal settlements.
While EMA has been fining local authorities for allowing settlements on wetlands, this has not helped solve the problem since more colonies continue to sprout.
Interestingly, the issue has been escalated to Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, who revealed this week that all settlers who erected houses on marshlands should leave these areas to avoid losing their properties when their illegal structures are demolished.
“For lack of supervision and monitoring, Harare has been parcelling out these important pieces of land for residential stands,” she said.
“We have been doing quite a lot of demolitions as a result of (the illegal construction of houses on wetlands) to try and ensure that we protect our water sources, but where we have not managed to do serious demolitions, we have put programmes in place to try and divert water courses to make sure that there are no disruptions.”
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, who is part of a six-member inter-ministerial taskforce set up in March this year to investigate the chaos on wetlands, said they would abide by Mushinguri-Kashiri’s decision.
“The committee has resolved to confront issues of environment pollution and challenges posed to the environment,” Kasukuwere said.
Other members of the taskforce, chaired by Muchinguri-Kachiri, include Lands and Resettlement Minister, Douglas Mombeshora, Agriculture Minister, Joseph Made, Home Affairs Minister, Ignatius Chombo and Preservation of Cultural Heritage Minister, Abednego Ncube.
Harare Mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, said council would not protect residents who are allocated stands on wetlands by bogus land developers.
“We cannot run a city without rules. Those residents should face the consequences of building houses willy-nilly,” Manyenyeni said.
Recent reports indicated that 30 wetlands in Harare alone were under threat from illegal settlements.
“She (Muchinguri-Kashiri) has not yet approached us, but she is speaking the right language. We need to protect these wetlands,” said Manyenyeni.
“We should not parcel out land on wetlands, we should protect these areas. Even if some of it is private land, we all have a duty to protect it,” he added.
In Harare, areas such as Kuwadzana, Glen Norah, Waterfalls, Warren Park, Borrowdale, Belvedere, Budiriro, Msasa, Ruwa, and Malbereign have many housing developments on marshlands.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the 1971 Ransar Convention on Wetlands. This gives the country an obligation to conserving wetlands that act as sponges that store water and act as flood controllers and carbon sinks that purify and supply water to water sources such as streams and dams.
In 2007, government issued Statutory Instrument 7, which provides for the protection of wetlands as a follow up to the convention.
EMA’s environmental education and publicity manager, Steady Kangata, said the agency was not empowered to demolish the structures.
“Our jurisdiction does not go as far as demolitions. Those are the duties local authorities and the government. Our push is to properly take care of the wetlands,” he said.
But while the idea of saving the wetlands is noble, this could set government on collision course with rights activists and the international community which view demolitions of properties as a gross human rights violation.
In 2005, the ZANU-PF government caused an international outcry when it razed down thousands of properties in a clean-up campaign dubbed Operation Murambatsvina, which affected close to a million citizens. Financial Gazette