The country is experiencing rapid population growth resulting in a corresponding upsurge in infrastructural and housing needs, especially in cities and urban centres, a development fuelling ecological chaos.
By Kennedy Nyavaya
Statistics suggest that about 60% of Zimbabwe’s population is under the age of 30 years and it is this youth bulge that feeds into the appetite for land, particularly residential.
As a result of rural-to-urban migration, a significant number of this young population usually find themselves in urban set-ups in search of better economic opportunities for life sustenance.
While at it, they need roofs over their heads and that has triggered an urban town planning crisis as major cities like Harare continue to accommodate more than was initially planned for.
The result has been the building on unsuitable land, including wetlands and prime agricultural land, which would otherwise provide positive contribution to the livelihoods of urban dwellers.
“We are having rapid urbanisation absorbing prime agricultural land right now. In Harare, residential stands are being allocated on prime agricultural land like Hatcliffe and Westgate, among others,” bemoans Harare-based agronomist Ronald Rusere.
Rusere argues this is not sustainable and there is need to identify unproductive land such as, in the case of Harare, “that along Beatrice road and expand going that direction”.
History points at the country’s rural areas as largely dependent on agriculture, but findings by a local non-governmental organisation, Poverty Reduction Forum Trust, last year contend that urban residents are increasingly relying on urban agriculture for sustenance.
“Urban agriculture in Zimbabwe has gained acceptance and recognition over the years for its contribution to urban economies, food security and general wellbeing of urban residents,” reads part of the research document.
In a bid to mitigate soaring cost of living, many resort to backyard vegetable gardens while, open spaces are used for greater value produce like maize and other plants.
It is for this reason Rusere proposes that the city fathers and government extract real value by creating green belts to avoid sabotaging the lives of low-income earners and future generations.
“Instead of allocating stands there, why not make it a green belt and start agricultural activities, which complement urban settlements such as a greenhouse belt where high-value crops can be grown, be it vegetables or even roses?” he said.
Harare has fast become a source of agricultural produce competing with other traditional farming areas, an indication signifying the rapid growth in urban agriculture.
In recent years, urban agriculture has assumed a new image from small vegetable gardens for household consumption to a strong shoulder for urban household food security and source of income.
“In planning we zone land and there is some we term undevelopable not because you cannot put something there, but we are saying you cannot locate a permanent structure in that particular zone,” environmental research guru at the University of South Africa (Unisa) Godwell Nhamo recently told The Standard Style.
Almost all open green spaces in Greater Harare are vleis or wetlands, hence the presence of open spaces is not a coincidence, according to Nhamo, as it is in line with a town planning scheme to protect spaces like ecologically sensitive areas.
However, perhaps owing to corruption, there has been huge exploitation of these environmentally sensitive areas as parcelling out of land continues either for powerful individuals’ personal economic enhancement or political expedience at the expense of citizens’ life sustenance.
Encroachment on fertile land, as in the case of Monavale vlei in the capital, not only threatens to increase hunger, but also construction on wetlands affects the water table as it cannot be replenished.
“We have seen a lot of encroachment into wetlands by infrastructure that is expanding in Harare, not only housing, but of late even malls,” said Nhamo.
“Part of that land was suitable for urban agriculture so we have seen a lot of encroachment into agricultural land.”
The end result is there are houses standing on “flood zones” where there could be increased runoff that risks loss of property and life.
“The pockets of open land are getting closed so the city will not even breathe, which is a necessity in terms of disaster evacuation. there is need for open land, but in this case if you are going to pitch tents, where would you do that when there are residential stands?” queried Nhamo.
He said it was disheartening that there were a lot of issues that needed to be corrected in terms of how the city should address planning and climate change yet the capacity of municipalities is questionable.
“Such cases move into the issue of planning and climate change, which most town planners did not study and that in itself is a disaster as there is no adequate forward planning,” Nhamo said.
Accommodation continues to be a headache for both citizens, but there has been laxity from city leaders to consider the health of the environment yet it is a pertinent component of mankind’s existence.
There is urgent need to start considering high rise buildings as the phenomenon of widening construction is eating up space, which can never be regained in its natural state again.
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