HomeEnvironmentFurore over continued wetland destruction

Furore over continued wetland destruction

It would seem the fight to save the fast-disappearing wetlands might have come a little too late in Zimbabwe.

Environment with Chipo Musara

Bernard* (42) was almost giving up on the hope of ever owning his own house, fast resigning to what he had started to believe was his fate — being a tenant for the rest of his life.

But that fate was to unexpectedlly change when he learnt of “considerably affordable” stands that were selling like hot cakes. Like thousands of other aspirant homeowners, Bernard became a proud owner of a stand in the newly established suburb in Waterfalls, named Shortstone.

There was only one problem however; the land in the area was enveloped in water. The area was a wetland!

But were Bernard and fellow homeowners in the area aware of the facts about the place they had chosen to build houses in?

“Of course I could tell that the place had more water than other areas, but I was not about to let a little water come in the way of my finally owning a property of my own,” Bernard asserted.

But it would seem they were not fully aware of the implications of settling in such an area.

“Build your house in a wetland and you’ve got a hobby for the rest of your life; you will be fighting that water forever,” warned Ed Perry in an article on the National Wildlife website entitled Caution: Building in a wetland can be hazardous to your house.

“When wetlands are filled, the water that made them wet has to go somewhere. If it isn’t seeping back into the house built on the former wetland, the water is likely leaking into formally dry homes of downstream property owners,” added Perry.

The theory that building on a wetland presents problems has proven true for residents of Shortstone. While the rest of the country would naturally be celebrating the coming of rains, they would instead be cursing.

During the rainy season, there is so much water in their yards that it is difficult to even just step out of houses, as it would be flooded outside.
And just how safe are their houses, in this environment?
The soil on wetlands is not the best for building owing to its weak texture. If one is to build a strong structure on a wetland, the cost of construction more than doubles as the foundation would require more robust building material.

But this is just one of many examples of wetlands in the country that have been converted to other uses.

Not too long ago, there was a major outcry over the construction of a Chinese mall on a wetland near the National Sports Stadium. It did nothing to perturb the land developers. Today, where the wetland used to be, Long Cheng Plaza now stands. Parts of the building however are already showing signs of cracking.

Mukuvisi Woodlands (MK1) is another gazetted wetland, but just about 30m from the wetland, there is a church being constructed, impacting directly upon the functions of the wetland. The city council reportedly issued a change in land use certificate and the church developers were asked to pay off a council debt in exchange for the piece of land, and that sealed the deal.

But just why, in spite of all the lobbying and campaigning against their destruction, do the wetlands continue to be vandalised?

Many believe it is a matter of policy inconsistency, coupled with unclear sections of the Environmental Management Act, which land developers that own land falling on wetlands, have chosen to “misinterpret” to mean they can do what they please with the land.

Some believe the problem is with those that issue out Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) to the land developers.

“Most of the EIAs are not up to scratch. You wonder if people that do these EIAs even did Geography at school. They seem to not understand what a wetland even is. The way they are reviewing the EIAs leaves a lot to be desired,” said Allain Chimanikire of Mukuvisi Woodlands, who is part of the Wetlands Survival Forum, established to fight the continued wetland destruction.

“It is quite disturbing to note that after several engagements with the relevant authorities our wetlands continue to be parcelled out by the City Fathers for development, impacting heavily on our wetlands’ ecosystems and functions, while Harare residents continue to suffer and bear the cost of purifying the water from Lake Chivero — a job which our wetlands can do very easily,” added Chimanikire.

Whether the fight to save the wetlands and restore them will be won, remains to be seen.

One thing for certain, without the wetlands, the country can brace for an even worse water crisis in the near future than the one currently being faced!

*Not his real name

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