Harare's wetlands under threat

HARARE - With over 30 wetlands across Harare, these vast water holding bodies are now under threat.

More than half of the capital is built on wetlands but soon there could be nothing left as development, urban agriculture and pollution  threatens their very existence.

University of Zimbabwe Professor Christopher Magadza said wetlands not only provide aesthetic appeal to the environment but can also be used to naturally purify water.

He told the Daily News on Sunday that unless Zimbabwe harnesses the purification power that these vast expanses of land posses, people will continue to drink contaminated water.

“If a lot of our street run-off coming through from our garbage heaps is allowed to run through a wetland into the river, the pollutants are removed,” Magadza said.

He added that Lake Chivero will still remain polluted after the rehabilitation of the sewerage works unless wetlands are harnessed to purify run-off which is called the diffuse source pollution.

Magadza said unless the issue of pollution and siltation is addressed, Chivero will not be able to sustain the
growing Harare population.

“If we have a drought, the water stored in the lake should be able to supply the city for at least three years,” Magadza said adding; “But with the population growing, it is difficult.

“An engineer from the City of Harare told me that with the kind of siltation in the lake, we may have lost about six months of water storage”.

Magadza said engineering in the form of waste water management will need a lot of money to reduce phosphorus content to make the water suitable for consumption.

He also said there is need to purify the lake itself and not completely rely on rehabilitating the sewerage works, if a significant change will be realised.

Ecosystems manager at the Environmental Management Agency (Ema), Debra Magwada said there are 1 117 wetlands in Zimbabwe. She said about two percent of Zimbabwe is wetlands, most of which are in the communal areas.

“In the master plan of Harare, there are green areas which could not sustain development projects but with time, Harare has been targeted for construction and those wetlands are now being built on,” Magwada said.

Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Regulations (SI) 7 of 2007 provides for the protection of wetlands, however, Ema claims to have their hands tied when it comes to stopping any developments on these marshes.

Other wetlands that have been allocated for developmental purposes around Harare include one behind Dandaro Village in Borrowdale, the wetland at Warren Hills golf course and next to the National Sports Stadium where LongChen Mall is located.

Magwada said in some parts of Harare, the water table had dropped from 18 metres below the surface to 30 metres, making it increasingly difficult to access water.

She emphasised that construction and industrial activities on wetlands were also giving rise to pollution of underground water.

“The Institute of Water and Sanitation indicates that by 2025, there will be water scarcity in Zimbabwe, however, we cannot talk about that because it is already happening,” Magwada said.

Magwada said for wetlands to be respected, government must put a price value on them to show just how much is being depleted by human activity.

She said in some countries like the United States, New York City bought their wetlands and have since valued them to be over $1 billion, which they guard jealously.

“As a nation we have not put monetary value on any of our wetlands”, she said adding: “To a politician who wants to make ZimAsset work they will not make any considerations on building on wetlands.

“By putting a value on them and indicating the loss value of depleting the area we may get somewhere,” Magwada said.

Dorothy Wakeling, programme manager of Monavale Vlei said wetlands were like a basic necessity to the ecological balance of the environment.

She said Monavale Vlei was once on the verge of complete destruction through construction in the area but through lobbying, they managed to save the wetland.

“Currently, schools visit the Monavale Vlei because it provides them with practical experience, particularly university students, majoring in environmental studies,” she said.

Wakeling also said resuscitating wetlands is not only for educational benefits, but also assists in bringing back various species of fauna and flora, that may be extinct in other parts of the country.

Wellington Pasirai of Chitora Village Ward 1 in Shurugwi said through funding from the Small Grant Fund and other partners, they have managed to harness the power of their wetlands in Shurugwi.

He said the wetlands had been destroyed by urban developmental expansion and agricultural activities.

“Now because it has been fenced and secured, we can carefully use water from the wetlands for irrigation purposes which help the community,” Pasirai said.

The Ramsar Treaty which was adopted in 1971 is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem and Zimbabwe became a signatory in 2011.

Zimbabwe has seven  wetlands that have been designated as Ramsar sites and these are Monavale Vlei, Cleveland Dam, Mana Pools, Lake Chivero and Manyame, Chinhoyi Caves, Victoria Falls National Park, and Driefontein Grasslands.

Most of these wetlands are vital water sources for human settlements and wildlife within their catchment areas.

    Comments (5)

    I am very suspect of this wetland business and I think that it is being used by established business to stop any development because they are making a killing out of the situation whereby they charge heavy shop and office rents. At the Chinese Mall which I happen to live near we were all told by the sandal wearing greenies that our boreholes would all dry up. Well guess what they have not. The same applies to the mall of Zimbabwe where a leading South African professor drilled and examined the place and stated that because it did not hold water at a certain level it could not be classified as a wetland. Any fool can see that this sudden concern for non existent wetland in various parts of Harare is simply a smokescreen. Oh and bye the way the prof also found that the Borrowdale wetland has been created by serious leaky sewerage and that if it was to get into the water system half of Harare would be ill.

    mary mombe - 20 July 2014

    just look around the new houses build by FCB in waterfalls the wetlands there are littered with filth from occupants of those houses why did FCB not make a provision for occupants to leave theyr filth and have it collected ones a week this is the way they do it in civelised countrys like canada holland and many more COME ON FCB YOU GOT PLENTY OF MONEY TO DO THIS

    jack - 21 July 2014


    Fintan Michael - 21 July 2014


    Fintan Michael - 21 July 2014

    Why the fuss .. ..it is clear that artificially constructed wetlands perform better than natural systems, … (Shutes et al., 1993; Cutbill, 1994; Hares & Ward, 1999) . Conditions on development can insist well landscaped better performing constructed wetlands replace the natural ones .

    Tony Lampard - 22 July 2014

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