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Action needed to cement awareness

The year 2012 has no doubt been an eventful year on the environmental scene in Zimbabwe, for the better and for the worse.

Opinion by Chipo Masara

Maybe the one thing that many would not have failed to notice is how environmental issues have gained prominence.

As with the rest of the world, it is clear that although it might have taken long enough, Zimbabwe has finally acknowledged that environmental issues are anything but trivial.

Problems such as wetland abuse, deforestation, climate change, poaching, littering, veld fires, water and air pollution, land degradation through mining, and wildlife conservancy invasion, among others, have become widely talked about issues.

Unlike in the past, when many people had no clue as to what the fuss about the environment was all about, 2012 has presented a better picture as far as environmental awareness is concerned.

Environmental organisations such as Environment Africa, Forestry Commission, Conservation Society of Monavale, Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe, Mukuvisi Woodlands, Friends of the Environment, Miracle Missions, Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela), have been highly instrumental throughout the year in helping spread environmental awareness, as well as implementing numerous corrective measures.

Forestry Commission for instance, has been on a vigorous reforestation campaign, putting in place an ambitious project that involves planting at least 10 million trees each planting season. However, persistent veld fires have been retrogressive towards such efforts.

Also interesting to note in 2012 was how the corporate world in Zimbabwe seemed to have finally heeded the call for them to “green” their operations. Most notable has been the Nyaradzo Funeral Group, which has been involved this year in numerous environmental initiatives.

In spite of the increased awareness of environmental matters and much talking about it however, it would in most cases seem that it’s more often than not just talk without the action to back it up. This has especially been the case regarding the on-going wetland abuses.

In spite of representatives from the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) insisting that wetland abuse would not, under any circumstances, be allowed to go on, the ecologically sensitive areas continue to be wiped out. For instance, where the National Sports Stadium wetland used to be, now stands a Chinese-owned mall.

The Gunhill/Highlands wetland has been sold off to land developers, who are getting it ready for construction. if no stop is soon put to the developments, it will also soon be nothing but a memory of what was.

There are also reports of plans to build the so-called Mall of Zimbabwe on the Borrowdale wetland.

These developments have made many question whether EMA has what it takes to protect the environment.

Considering that wetlands are a major source of underground water supply, while also serving as free water purifying systems, among many of their roles, wiping them out will spell doom for a country already facing acute water problems.

Environmental degradation through mining activities, is another area that has remained a thorn in the flesh for most communities in the country.

Judging from reports gathered at a workshop hosted by Zela incorporating many mining stakeholders last Tuesday, most mining companies operating in the country seem to have brought to the communities in which they operate, more burdens than they have brought relief.

Besides digging up and leaving open trenches that have not only damaged the landscape, but injured and in some cases killed people and their livestock, there are increased reports of miners polluting water sources. This is posing a serious danger to both people and their livestock.

The Save River, a source of water for millions, is reported to have been heavily polluted by chemicals dumped in it by some companies mining diamonds in the Chiadzwa area.

But although the Chiadzwa diamond area has clearly received the most attention, miners in other areas like Mutoko, Bindura, Kwekwe and Hwange, do not seem to be doing any better either.

It would seem the concept of sustainability has not yet been fully embraced by the mining sector.

Litter is another problem that bedevilled the whole country for the year and does not look like it is in any hurry to go away. There is still a serious lack of bins, garbage still rarely gets collected and people continue to litter like there is no tomorrow!

2012 has also been the year that saw the invasion of wildlife conservancies like the Save River Conservancy, a move that had a negative bearing on the country’s wildlife safety and the conservation of the animal sanctuaries. The tourism sector was heavily affected.

Besides encouraging poaching activities that further dwindled the country’s wildlife numbers, the move also encouraged unprecedented tree-cutting in the conservancy areas.

Tobacco farmers worsen deforestation
Tobacco farmers, who have been mostly blamed for the country’s present state of deforestation, have continued to rampantly cut down trees, especially the indigenous ones which can take more than a century to fully mature.

It would seem very few of the tobacco farmers seem to be taking seriously the requirement for each of them to have a woodlot from which they can get the wood to use in treating their crop.

As we wrap up 2012, it is hoped that all the environmental knowledge gathered over the year may materialise into positive action that would help restore the country’s environment.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

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