The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Harare Wetlands Trust (HWT) have welcomed the report of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism on Wetlands Management, presented to Parliament in February 2020.
The report was prepared in response to submissions made by ZLHR and HWT to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism on Wetlands Management on 28 January 2019, a field tour of affected sites by HWT in February 2019, and a Wetlands Legislative Review Meeting with ZLHR and HWT on 20 March 2019.
ZLHR and HWT called on Parliament to protect wetlands in the context of the City of Harare, the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) increasingly authorising developments on wetlands – including on internationally protected sites such as Monavale Vlei – and widespread unlawful developments taking place, resulting in a continued degradation of Harare’s wetlands, depriving the city of their vital ecosystem services.
Wetlands are like giant sponges, absorbing and purifying water which would otherwise be mostly lost as run-off. The water absorbed throughout the rainy season is slowly released in the dry season into the stream and river systems around the city, finding its way into the major water sources supplying the city, such as Lake Chivero and Manyame Dam. Without the wetlands, these water sources would quickly run dry in winter months and poor rainy seasons.
Concerns raised by ZLHR and HWT included the inordinate amount of power and discretion wielded by a few individuals, and the lack of transparency in the processes of granting of development permits and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Certificates for development on wetlands. The decision makers have seemingly favoured the short-term benefits of developments, such as revenue income from levies and rates, without a proper consideration of their environmental impact in the long-term.
Against this backdrop, ZLHR and HWT commended the Parliament Portfolio Committee for calling on the state to take urgent measures to curb persistent wetlands destruction in Harare.
“ZLHR and HWT specifically commend recommendations for the re-establishment of the National Environmental Council, as an expert advisory council to the Minister; the establishment of an Environmental Commission, as an independent commission to report on environmental issues; and the establishment of an Environmental Tribunal with punitive jurisdiction over violations of environmental laws: to ensure checks and balances and objective assessments of the ecological issues in the decision-making processes. ZLHR and HWT further recommend that a specialised environmental police unit with expertise on environmental issues be established.
“ZLHR and HWT call upon the Ministry of Environment to review and update the National Environmental Plan, and to develop Local Authority Environmental Action Plans, as recommended, in a manner recognising the importance and protection of wetlands. Such plans will complement the long-outstanding process of updating the Master Plan for Harare, which process ZLHR and HWT recommend for urgent completion. Most importantly, ZLHR and HWT support the recommendation for the Minister of Environment to map all wetlands, with expert input, and have their territorial footprint gazetted by December 2020. ZLHR and HWT note the current progress that is being made in this regard by EMA and the Ministry of Environment.”
Legislative reform is critical for wetlands protection. ZLHR and HWT support the call for legislative provisions to provide: – that all development on wetlands be prohibited except in the most exceptional circumstances; that the onus lie on the developer to approach the courts proving why development on wetlands is in the public interest; and that development be stopped once legal proceedings challenging construction on a prima facie wetland have been initiated.
ZLHR and HWT also welcomed the recommendation for domestication of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. As a state party to the Ramsar Convention, ZLHR and HWT also called on the state to urgently take measures to protect Ramsar Sites under threat, such as Monavale Vlei, and called for the speedy completion of the Wetland City Accreditation application process by the Harare City Council and EMA. The accreditation would promote and support Harare as a ‘wetland city’ committed to the protection of its water source.
“Finally, ZLHR and HWT commend the call for the review of Development Permits unlawfully issued without EIA certicates, public consultation, and without the approval of the relevant Catchment Councils. This recommendation is supported by critical recommendations made on unlawful sale and developments on wetlands in the Report by the Special Committee of Council on Commercial Land Sales and Leases in the City of Harare on 24 June 2019. It is recommended that investigations also be conducted into unlawful issuances of EIA certificates, change of use of local plans and ministerial decisions affecting core wetlands.
“In conclusion, ZLHR and HWT endorse and commend the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism on Wetlands Management’s comprehensive recommendations, and call on Parliament and the Executive to urgently implement them in accordance with the government’s obligations, as a state party to the Ramsar Convention and in terms of sections 73 and 77 of the Constitution, to protect the environment and our water resources for present and future generations,” the two organisations said in a statement.