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Yet another wetland under siege

WHEN construction work started on the wetland near the National Sports Stadium in Harare, it raised much ire and objections.

Report by Chipo Masara

A truck carries soil at the Gunhill /Highlands wetland, preparing the land for construction . . . Invasion of wetlands is on the rise in the country — PICTURE: Watson Ufumeli

Many people questioned how the authorities entrusted with caring for the country’s environment could allow such environmental abuse to take place.

This however, did nothing to stop the developments and as we speak today, a Chinese-owned shopping mall stands on what used to be the wetland.

A wetland in Borrowdale, opposite the racecourse, seems set to face the same fate, despite on-going protestations from environmentalists and conservationists.

McCormick Property Development, a South African company working with Augur Investments, is set to build the so-called Mall of Zimbabwe on the wetland. Augur Investments insists the area is not a wetland.

Jason McCormick, the managing director for McCormick Property Development recently told the media that the project was “a juggernaut that cannot be stopped”.

He might as well have been right.

Yet another major wetland — Gunhill/Highlands wetland — faces imminent danger. The vlei runs next to the Newlands roundabout, to areas such as Gunhill, Avondale, Pocket’s Hill, ZBC and continues over the racecourse as the Borrowdale wetland.

When the Standard visited the area last week, bulldozers and big trucks could be seen working on the wetland, in hurried preparations for construction to begin.

According to a letter from Plan Afric, a firm tasked with conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the project will comprise houses, offices, medical centre and recreational facilities when complete.

In spite of the fact the EIA results have not yet been presented, construction on the wetland has reportedly been going on for almost three months now.

Plan Afric director, an L Mabvudza, refused to comment, insisting that he was not authorised to speak on the issue. “I don’t live in that area. In fact, I do not know anything about anything that’s going on in that area,” Mabvudza said before he hung up.

Residents that live around the wetland expressed disgruntlement over their exclusion as they were never notified of developments on the wetland.

The wetland is covered in red vlei grass and orchids that grow in marshy areas and evidently has on it large amounts of stored-up underground water.

There are fears that the continued abuse of wetlands would worsen the country’s water supply catastrophe.

Wetlands — also referred to as swamps, sponges and vleis — are marshy areas covered in water during the rainy season and even though they may appear dry during the dry season, they store water underground, which is slowly released into rivers and streams.

Wetlands also act as water purifiers, a task that the country is currently finding overwhelming, with the City of Harare currently requiring US$1,9 billion to rehabilitate its sewerage and water reticulation systems.

According to the Conservation Society of Monavale (Cosmo), an organisation that campaigns against wetland abuse, greater Harare and its environs sit in the headwaters of Manyame and Gwebi catchment basins, on which 6,5 million people depend for water supply.

There is no higher place from which Harare can source its water.

Cosmo added that many people were unaware that Lake Chivero and Manyame were downstream of Harare and that the water is pumped back to Harare.

Continued destruction of wetlands implies that there would be much less water than there currently is. Studies have shown that the country’s water table had by earlier this year sunk from 15 to 30 metres on average over the last 10 years.


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