Zimbabwe’s life-giving wetlands saved from cluster home fate

(Jude Fuhnwi; 31 March 2017)

Vital advocacy work from BirdLife’s Zimbabwean Partner has halted one of Harare’s neighbouring wetlands from becoming a building site – a big win both for the capital’s nature, and its people

Harare is a city on the rise. But as ever, growth comes at a cost. As Zimbabwe’s sprawling capital expands outwards, the wetlands that surround it are slowly but surely being lost to development, or tarnished with pollution. It’s a classic conflict – the need to build houses, versus the need to protect nature from unsustainable development. But in this case, things are more clear-cut. Harare’s wetlands are vital, live-giving ecosystems, and their distruction is a situation that should concern not only local conservation groups such as BirdLife Zimbabwe, but everyone who lives in or near the capital of this landlocked southern African country.

Wetlands are productive environments that provide countless ecosystem services to humanity and biodiversity. Many species of plants, birds and animals, including the humans who live in and around the city, depend on the exceptionally biodiverse, seasonally inundated and open grassland swamps for survival. But development is posing a major threat to the future of these vital habitats.

Zimbabwean authorities recognize this issue and laws are in place to prevent it. The country’s Environmental Management Act development restricts works on wetlands. The law requires that developers obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment Certificate from the agency managing the environment before they are issued a permit to carry on with a project on any wetland in the country.

However, this law is not always respected. “Wetlands in Zimbabwe are protected on paper but are being destroyed, compromising water availability and the quality of fresh water for sustainable development” says Julia Pierini, BirdLife Zimbabwe Chief Executive. “Loss of wetlands in Harare equals loss of water for the city”.

It wasn’t always this way. For decades, the shallow marshes and open green spaces in Harare remained untouched. That began to change 15 years ago when the population of Greater Harare began to grow rapidly, mostly due to migration from rural areas into the cities.

Resulting pressures from development, unregulated agriculture and pollution have led to rapid loss of some important wetlands. This has seriously affected the biodiversity of the wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide, including the fundamental service of fresh water provision for the citizens of Greater Harare. Without wetlands, the city will have to spend more money to treat water for citizens, floods will be more devastating to nearby communities, animals shall be displaced or die and livelihoods disrupted.

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