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HCC, residents clash over wetlands

Harare Mayor Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni will not seek re-election at the end of his current term
Harare Mayor Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni will not seek re-election at the end of his current term

Council is currently clearing wetlands in Hillside, Kambuzuma and Eastlea for the construction of bus ranks and fuel forecourts, thus courting the wrath of residents.

Zimbabwe has seven wetlands protected under the Ramsar Treaty, which the country adopted in 2011.

Apart from these seven wetlands, there are hundreds of other wetlands in and around the capital city, currently under threat from land barons.

This week, residents challenged the Harare City Council (HCC) to prove that due process had been followed in clearing the wetlands, including producing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificates as proof.

Wetlands Harare representative, Julia Pierini, said the law clearly states that any work will only start once an EIA certificate is issued.

“The discord going on shows that HCC and the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) are not talking to each other and are approving illegal developments,” she said.

Pierini said if HCC is to provide sufficient water for its residents, the municipality needs to take the preservation of wetlands seriously.

She said council and government were blatantly disregarding wetlands, thereby putting the future of the city’s water supply in danger.

“Residents have not been shown any documentation to prove that construction on the wetlands has been authorised. We do not know if Ema even approved the construction on these areas,” said Pierini.

“The issue of water provision may not be a problem now but in a few years Harare will be dry. They are killing our underground water reservoirs. Ninety percent of most developments are irregular and have no permits.”

Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, said he has no executive powers to stop the construction of the bus ranks.

“However, I urge residents to take the legal route to stop the construction and subsequent destruction of the wetlands,” the Harare mayor said.

Ema publicity manager, Steady Kangata, said an EIA is done to safeguard environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands and there exist screening guidelines once a prospectus has been received and reviewed by the ministry of Environment.

Kangata said exemptions were made especially if the activity will cause significant public concern because of potential environmental changes.

“An EIA Acceptance is granted when the ministry determines that the assessment of an activity has been sufficiently thorough to actually pinpoint the environmental impacts which it is likely to cause, as well as measures for managing them.

“EIA Acceptance does not, however, mean that the environmental impacts of an activity are acceptable to the ministry — if objections are made then it can overturn the earlier acceptance decision.

“All formal submissions under the EIA policy are made to the ministry through Ema. Ema is supposed to maintain a register of all activities being reviewed under the policy.

“Under the procedure, a developer or investor must fund the EIA themselves. Government is then responsible for reviewing EIA submissions. The preparation of an EIA report is the responsibility of the proponents. The ministry provides routine and technical advice,” said Kangata.

University of Zimbabwe environmental expert, Christopher Magadza, said the deterioration of wetlands was affecting the capital city’s main source of drinking water, Lake Chivero.

He said indiscriminate cultivation on wetlands and construction work has caused the Lake to lose 10 meters of water storage capacity mainly because of interfering with wetlands storage functions one of which is sediment interception.

“During a rainstorm much of the downpour is held back by the wetlands vegetation before it reaches the river channel. Consequently, the receiving river receives a modulated run-off from the watershed.

“However, if the wetlands are degraded or replaced with housing and shopping malls, there is nothing to hold back the downpour and it all appears in the river channel in a very short time causing the river level to rise and overflow beyond its banks,” said Magadza. Daily News