Wetlands remain the current hot environmental topic, especially in the capital, as unlawful activity in wetland areas, which we call vleis, especially construction, continues at terrifying pace.
Report by Rosie Mitchell
This is not just about hanging on to our last remaining greenbelts, though in my own and many city residents’ opinions, this is important too.
But for those who don’t care whether we have beautiful open green spaces to enjoy among the concrete and noise and buildings, let us not lose sight of the most fundamental issue around wetlands, and why they need to stay wet.
The wetlands definition comprises vleis, marshes, estuaries, river catchment areas, flood plains, swamps, dambos, sponges and any other area at all that is either permanently or seasonally water-logged.
Globally, most are under threat through human activities which interfere with the natural hydration processes in which they play a vital part.
A quick drive through the suburbs and outskirts of Harare soon demonstrates what is happening in many vleis, some, consistently in the press. We as residents stand seemingly helplessly by while bulldozers are seen blatantly churning up these areas, once viewed as sacrosanct from development of any kind.
Houses, mansions and other buildings are going up all over the city in these precious areas. Rubbish is widely dumped in vleis with unsightly, unsanitary and ecologically devastating consequences, contaminating ground water, clogging up natural water flow, hurting wildlife, creating health hazards and rendering the environment ugly.
Cultivation of any kind is illegal in our city wetlands. Our already scarce city water will dry up altogether, unless a stop is put to resultant wetland destruction.
Residents should engage EMA to protect greenbelts
Many residential areas, high and low-density, incorporate or are adjacent to wetland greenbelt areas.
Where wetlands are concerned, the governing relevant legislation is the Environmental Management Act, which entirely overrides other legislation related to building, town planning and development in such areas.
An Environmental Impact Assessment is compulsory before development can commence on a wetland, and just so we’re clear, a vlei is, absolutely, a wetland!
Clearly, these laws are being largely ignored and due process, not followed. Without public pressure and outcry, unscrupulous developers with only dollar signs in mind will bulldoze their way both through the legal provisions and through the soils of the vleis, till none are left— and imminently! So — what can you as an individual actually do?
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) is the ultimate authority when it comes to conserving our wetlands, and has its own very informative website. Go there.
Write to or visit EMA to voice your concerns as a worried city resident when you observe construction taking place on a vlei, and check with them whether an Environmental Impact Assessment has been done and submitted. These are documents of public record.
Residents who live near vleis where building, dumping and agriculture take place need to communicate en masse with those tasked to conserve these areas as individuals or community groups.
In Monavale, local residents formed a lobby group to get their vlei officially protected for posterity.
The resultant Conservation Society of Monavale succeeded, and today, is a well-known, highly respected environmental group, running some excellent education programmes.
Recently visited by representatives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Monavale Vlei project was applauded as a flagship community wetland conservation initiative, a fine example of what is possible when local residents take responsibility for their wetlands. Team up with other residents in your area now, waste no time, it’s running out! Set up your own community organisation, however small initially.
Together, voice your concerns to the authorities about what you observe happening on your own back doorsteps.
Democracy in action is about public opinion being voiced, heard and acted upon, because efforts are being made by a public that really cares about the issues in question.
If we don’t voice our objections then the interpretation can only be, we don’t care.
There are hundreds of thousands of adults in this city who are sufficiently aware of the wetland crisis to care about it, and can speak out about it, by sending emails, delivering letters or starting email petitions.
There is already an online petition opposing the development of the Borrowdale vlei. See AVAAZ.org, the website where millions of people worldwide very effectively campaign about many important issues. On reaching 1 000 signatories, the petition is sent off via this site and many concrete results can be and are achieved.