Corruption among government and council officials as well as general lack of knowledge among residents has been blamed for the continued destruction of wetlands in Harare.
By Edgar Gweshe
Delivering a keynote address during a stakeholders workshop hosted by the Harare Wetlands Trust last week, acting Harare Mayor Alderman Samuel Chinyowa said disregard of the law by powerful individuals was also to blame for wetlands destruction.
The workshop was attended by Harare Councilors form the Environmental Management Committee and other environmental experts.
“Allow me ladies and gentlemen to point out that corrupt elements within government and council have also been parceling out wetlands to unsuspecting and desperate home seekers. We have also had challenges in evicting people who invaded wetlands since the process is long.
“The constitution requires us to go through the courts and by the time the cases are concluded, the state of the invaded wetland will be different. We have had situations whereby the government, through line ministries and the Environmental Management Authority have overridden council and allowed developments to take place on wetlands,’ said Alderman Chinyowa.
He also accused the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) of issuing out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificates on wetlands saying council lacks the power to reverse directives from EMA.
“In the previous era, we were being told to regulate settlements on wetlands and when that happens, as a local authority, our hands will be tied,” said Alderman Chinyowa.
It also came out during the meeting that the Environmental Management Act gives too much power to the Minister responsible for the environment as he/she can authorize or stop developments on wetlands.
Alderman Chinyowa said this has created conflict among stakeholders on the preservation of wetlands. He added that the fact that not all of the land in Harare is owned by council means that in some instances, the local authority lacks the power to stop developments on wetlands.
Alderman Chinyowa appreciated that the issue of wetlands was taking centre stage especially on topics such as water availability as well as water quality and natural ecosystems.
There was consensus among stakeholders present during the workshop that there is need for programmes to educate residents on the importance of wetlands which are the major source of water in Harare after run off.
Major threats to wetlands in Harare include urban agriculture and construction projects.
Residents have also questioned the process of issuing EIA certificates arguing that allowing a developer to pay a private consultant for an EIA certificate creates room for corruption.
Some Harare residents have also engaged Parliament seeking legislators’ intervention to protect wetlands from further destruction.