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Settling on wetlands costly for Zimbabwe

Jackie Mbayiwa-Makuvatsine

zim wetlands 2

Zimbabweans duped into building on marshlands?

Maxwell Makushe always dreamt of owning a house in Harare as he grew up. As an accountant employed by a reputable bank in the country, Makushe’s received his mortgage allowance to purchase a  housing stand and he settled for Monavale, it was an answer to his prayers.

Little did he know that one day, floods would fill the beautiful and precious home he loved so much. This season’s rains were a nightmare not only to Makushe, but to a lot of people in Harare, Chitungwiza and Chikanga in Mutare who have built on wetlands.

Residents of Manyame Park in Chitungwiza, Westlea, Monavale and some parts of Mabelreign paid dearly as furniture and property was damaged by floods.

Emmah Museve of Mabelreign said she will never forget the chilling cold that woke her up to discover the whole house flooded.

“I remember vividly what happened on the fateful night, my bed was almost covered with water, the stove, sofas and everything were damaged, it was a nightmare,” she said.

This is the dilemma people who built on wetlands suffered due to the rains that fell mercilessly this season.

The City of Harare has been in the limelight owing to the reclamation of wetlands for urban development as a remedy to rapid urbanization. There is an increase in the number of people living in wetlands and the inhabitants of wetlands encounter a number of problems that include structural failure of their housing units and they are prone to waterborne diseases.

According to International Journal of Humanities and Social Science in Zimbabwe, wetlands cover approximately 4.6 percent of the land; these are the most dominant as they cover 3.6 percent of the land.

“The most important piece of legislation is the Natural Resources Act 2001 whose main goal is to control the use of resources.  In other words, there is no lack of legislation per se, but the various laws are fragmented and a coherent national environmental policy in the form of umbrella legislation, has not yet been developed,” reads part of the journal.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) spokesperson, Steady Kangata said section 113 of the environmental Act states that wetlands should be observed and that there is need for EMA to authorise if ever one needs to utilise a wetland.

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Government losing control?

“There are designated areas due to gazette number 380 of 2013 which stipulates areas in Harare as wetlands. People who build on wetlands do not put into consideration the impact of their activities to the environment. Those buildings are regarded as illegal structures because they are not built on designated areas,” said Kangata.

He added that in places like Monavale, foundations are sinking, plastering is peeling off and boundary walls are slacking.

“We are hard on the heels of local authorities not to sell wetlands to residents as this costs them, not only them but the country at large as wetlands are important for the environment. We are also raising awareness through radio programs and participating in activities like the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, (ZITF) and the World Wetlands Day,” he said.

People, Kangata said, should contact EMA when they buy land so that they asses it for them before they start building. He added that infrastructural developments on wetlands increase surface runoff and thus increase chances of flooding.

The current constitution of Zimbabwe has no specific clause that provides for the protection of the environment. However, section 4 of the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27), affords every citizen of Zimbabwe the right to live in a clean environment that is not harmful to their health; access to environmental information; the right to protect the environment for the benefit of present and future generations; and the right to participate in the implementation of legislation and policies that prevent pollution, environmental degradation and sustainable management and use of natural resources, while promoting justifiable economic and social development .

Harare city council spokesperson, Michael Chideme said people should always contact council before paying for land to avoid being duped and for verification purposes.

“It is always crucial that people verify with us rather than just buying land. We need to make sure that whether it is a cooperative, an individual or company that is selling stands, they are legally doing so,” said Chideme.

Environment Africa communications officer, Sandra Gobvu said it is bad to build on wetlands as this will lead to their drying because the construction process alters the physical status of the wetland due to compaction and also cement mixes will lead to drying.

“It is also very expensive to build on a wetland as such areas require special foundation for the building to stand,” she said.

People, Gobvu said, are not ignorant but the systems that lead to one getting a residential stand are not straightforward and this makes prospective home owners to grab what comes their way. It is the duty of the local authorities to carefully plan residential areas setting out environmentally sensitive areas like wetlands.

Gobvu added that there is need for more education to the populace about the importance of wetlands.

“More awareness needs to be done in communities. Indigenous knowledge systems already protected areas such as wetlands so these need to be preserved and shared with current and future generations,” she said.

She added that the existing policies on the preservation of wetlands are adequate and all that needs to be done is for people to be educated and more aware of the importance of wetlands as this enables people to comply with regulations and policies when there is clarity and understanding.

In Zimbabwe it is estimated that there are 1 262 000 hectares of wetlands. Wetlands are home to many plants such as reeds, grasses, water lilies, sedges and trees. These plants in turn provide food, a place of attachment and shelter for many species furthermore wetlands are essential to the health of lakes, rivers and streams because water sources start from them and by disturbing them.

Wetlands also act as natural sponges for precipitation run-off. Besides being effective at filtering and cleaning water and sinking carbon, wetlands are actually the main source of drinking water and also serve as natural wastewater purification systems. Disturbance in wetland functions that are life support systems has detrimental effects on them and the surrounding environment.

In Zimbabwe, disturbance and destruction of wetlands are on the hype.

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