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Harare’s wetlands get legal status

Harare’s wetlands get legal status

Harare’s wetlands get legal status

More than 30 wetlands in Harare and Chitungwiza have been gazetted in a move to clamp down on commercial and individual developments that threaten these vital areas. Zimbabwean Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Frances Nhema, signed the statutory instrument which sets out regulations that prevent land classified as a wetland area from allocation by City of Harare Council for commercial or residential development, spurred by recent developments around Harare.

Controversy surrounds Chinese firm Anjin’s construction of a luxury hotel that is threatening a fragile wetland area near the National Sports Stadium, despite concerns raised by the Environmental Management Agency. Similar controversy dogs the development of Africa Mall, potentially the second largest shopping mall in Africa, in the Borrowdale wetland.

The move by Nhema may have a detrimental effect on these and other commercial developments. The Africa Mall project is still awaiting its EIA  amidst strong opposition from environmental groups and local residents, while the developers and Government push for the completion of the process and for construction to begin.

Augur Investments, the developers of Africa Mall, are arguing that the project should continue based on their definition that the area is a vlei and not a wetland. However according to the Government Gazette of July 2012 the area has been gazetted as a wetland: ‘An area of land located to the west of Borrowdale Road and to the East of Groombridge, Teviotdale Road borders the wetland to the west while Whitwell Road demarcates the wetland to the northern side,’ reads part of the Gazette.

The Ministry considers the definition of a wetland to be as described in the Ramsar Convention as ‘areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that has the status if flowing, fresh, brakish or salty.’ The South African Department of Environmental Affairs includes ‘marshes, bogs, swamps, vleis and sponges’ as examples of wetlands.

Conservation of Harare’s wetlands is vital for various reasons, most important being the role wetlands play in the ground water cycle. Wetlands effectively act as sponges which soak up and store large quantities of water during the wet season, which is then released slowly into the ground water table and rivers during the drier seasons. Development on these resources would negatively affect this process and thus the supply of ground water on which Harare’s expanding population is increasingly reliant.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 11, Dec 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Harare