Wetlands crucial for ecological balance

One of the United Nations’ MDGs calls for different sectors to join forces to secure wetland environments in the context of sustainable development and improving human wellbeing.

But with persistent reports of the wetlands being converted to other uses, the future for the environment in the country especially in urban areas does not look good at all.

Although legislation has since been put in place to help safeguard the wetlands, their wanton destruction continues with the responsible authorities doing very little, if anything, to bring an end to the detrimental trend.

Just a few months ago, there were reports of petitions by the Monavale and Ballantyne Park residents vehemently disagreeing with the decision by the Harare City Council (HCC) to allocate stands on vleis in their areas.

According to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), wetland destruction is spreading at an alarming rate with most vleis in Chitungwiza reported to be under threat.

The Chinhoyi Golf Course is another wetland area that, according to EMA, is also under serious threat.
Considering these persistent invasions, it would appear that the offenders have the full backing of the powers that be.
It then leaves one wondering whether these authorities understand exactly what wetlands are and the role they play in the ecological system.

Many people might not know this, but besides being effective at filtering and cleaning water pollution and sinking carbon, among their many uses, wetlands are actually the main source of our drinking water.

This is necessary in a country like Zimbabwe, which has been plagued by perennial shortages of tap water, with some areas having gone for years without any supplies.
Wetlands also serve as natural wastewater purification systems.

According to Steady Kangata, EMA’s education and publicity manager, Zimbabweans in rural areas have a better understanding of what wetlands are and how to conserve them.

They are different from their urban counterparts who appear to mistake wetlands for wastelands or land that’s ideal for construction activities.
Asked to explain why the destruction of wetlands continues despite campaigns by local environmental organisations like the Conservation Society of Monavale and Bird Life, Kangata blamed the trend on council authorities.

He said the authorities continued to disregard pleas to stop the allocation of stands on wetlands.
Although an Environmental Impact Assessment is required before any construction activity commences, Kangata said  the law was not being followed.
“People that are allocated stands on wetlands should have the power to say no because it is to their loss,” said Kangata.
He said besides rendering settlers prone to waterborne diseases and floods, houses built on wetlands would not be able to stand the test of time as the foundations were prone to the effects of weathering.

Because of the housing projects that have been taking place on wetlands, some boreholes have been reported to have dried up.
According to the Institute of Water and Sanitation Capacity Development, projections indicate that by 2025, there will be water scarcity in Zimbabwe as a direct result of the “mismanagement and abuse of vulnerable ecosystems”.

In a report released by the Ministry of Science and Technology Development, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority’s groundwater manager, Sam Sunguro said construction of houses on wetlands coupled with a sharp increase in the use of borehole water had contributed to the depletion of Harare’s water table.

He said the water table that was previously at around 15 to 18 metres had gone down to about 30 metres in some areas.
Sunguro warned that “if the construction of houses on wetlands continues at the current rate, we run the risk of declaring underground water unsafe for drinking.”

Wetlands are a vital part of our ecosystem that is unfortunately fast degrading as a result of persistent abuse.
Unless quick remedial measures are put in place, we will soon be forced to see just how unpleasantly different life can be without them!

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