Not many people in Kwekwe understand the concept and value of wetlands. Many sectors of the society view such areas as of lesser importance or value.
It is common knowledge that most of the environmental challenges occur due to bad rapport between humans and the environment. However, in Kwekwe, some residents are already in overdrive destroying the environment through urban development and mining activities on wetlands while the local authority,Kwekwe Municipality as well as the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) are keeping a blind eye.
Wetlands or vlies are areas of land that are flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently. These are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year round or for varying periods of time during the year.
Such open spaces with their biodiversities store, clean, purify and regulate the flow of water acting as natural water catchment areas.
As the population swells in Kwekwe, a lot of urban development, cultivation and mining take place within wetlands in Amaveni, Newtown and Mbizo suburbs posing a health hazardous environment and water shortages in future if the destruction of wetlands is not attend to by EMA and Kwekwe City Council.
Sewarage is being left flowing into streams that feed into the main water source Sebakwe River.
Artisinal miners are also using the same streams to pan and surf their gold, while using hazardous chemicals like cyanide and mercury. Stream bank cultivation has remained a major problem particularly in Mbizo where the practice is common as communities look for other means of survival in these difficult economic times.
The hazardous chemicals used by artisanal miners and fertilizers used by farmers on wetlands will result in the local authority being forced to buy expensive water treatment chemicals due to water pollution.
EMA as the environmental watchdogs in Zimbabwe is not doing enough to protect and preserve wetlands as climate change is also posing enormous challenges to the environment.
Kwekwe’s director of Health Dr Mary Muchekeza said they do not allow urban cultivation and residential developments on wetlands but residents are not taking heed of these warnings.
“We work with the Government and our engineering department makes sure that we don’t develop or allocate land on the wetland. We don’t allow urban cultivation in any urban setting. Residents, against council policy use raw sewer to irrigate their vegetables on wetlands.
“We rely on our municipal police to enforce by laws and discourage cultivation on wetlands. The culprits are made to pay fines but still carry on with the illegal practice,” said Muchekeza.
She added that “from a public health point of view, we don’t allow urban cultivation, worse still the use of wetlands. We always discourage the use of wetlands for anything, be it, building a structure or agricultural purposes.”
She said they still have challenges with policing as some residents are difficult to control.
“According to the Regional Town and Country Planning Act, wetlands are not supposed to be built on and must be preserved,” said Dr Muchekeza.
Kwekwe District Development Coordinator Fortune Mupungu said he is still to be updated on the issue.
“I am still to receive reports on wetlands in Kwekwe from EMA who are the custodians of environment,” said Mupungu.
EMA’s Midlands provincial manager Benson Basera declined to comment on the issue saying it was a sensitive issue.
The Kwekwe Residents and Ratepayers Association has been in the forefront to help stop the rampant practice of stream bank cultivation in the city.
The association’s secretary general Alex Thomas Homela said he once briefed the city’s Works Engineer John Mhike on the issue on the sidelines of the city’s 2021 consultative budget meeting but was yet to get council’s position on this.
“A lot of damage is being done on wetlands in Kwekwe. Residents are busy farming on stream banks around the city disregarding its effects on the environment. If this practice remains unchecked it may lead to water shortages in the future due to siltation of Sebakwe River.
“As a representative of residents in Kwekwe I briefed the Works engineer on the issue and we are checking if there are taking an action on the issue. During the Covid- 19 lockdown stream bank cultivation spiked to alarming levels as people found themselves with nothing to do,” said Homela.
A 58-year-old Amaveni resident Phillip Nhari said he was concerned about the massive environmental degradation in townships.
“Wetlands in Amaveni are contaminated with sewage all year round. The city council is aware of this but they go on to allocate and sell any piece of available land. The malfunctioning Amaveni Sewer Pump Station has exacerbated the situation in terms of the movement and handling of sewerage,” Nhari said.
Another resident from the same suburb Marjory Mbeya had this to say, “How can council allocate stands in an area once reserved as a wetland. This is corruption and political interference at its worst”.
Pretty Sibanda also added her voice saying due to lack of information on the importance of not cultivating or building on wetlands, residents in Mbizo ME who were also allocated stands on wetlands by the local authority face challenges as some of their houses are flooded during heavy rains.
“All I want is a roof above my head. I don’t know anything about wetlands but during the rainy season, if it rains heavily my house is usually flooded with water and will have to scoop the water out for hours in end,” said Sibanda.
As urban cultivation is now rife along stream banks a Mbizo grandmother Theresa Chirwa (65) said she has been irrigating her garden along a stream bank for many years now.
“I started cultivating on this piece of land many years ago. At first we received clean water before we experienced the sewer problem. At first it was difficult to use sewerage water because of the strong stench but now we have got used to it. Sewerage is rich in organic fertilizer which is good for crops. Although it is not safe to use raw sewer we have no other option during dry seasons,” said Chirwa.
Unlike in Kwekwe, Harare residents have set up an organization called Harare Wetlands Trust which advocates for protection and preservation of wetlands in Harare where they monitor activities by the Harare City Council as well as residents on all wetlands.
Legal experts such as the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) add weight in the fight to protect wetlands in Zimbabwe.
Under Section 97 (5) of the EMA Act an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate must be obtained by the developer first from EMA before any development commences on the wetlands.
Climate Justice Zimbabwe (CJZ) founder, Perseverance Javangwe said wetlands are essential and it was sad that wetlands in Kwekwe are now danger of human occupation.
“Wetlands are essential to the well being of the city. They can ease the impacts of a changing climate by helping maintain ground water levels and protect areas from the worst impacts of floods by absorbing excess water.
“With Kwekwe’s urban population growing rapidly, urban settlement is highly on demand and it’s indeed a sad development that wetlands in Kwekwe are in danger of human occupation. It’s illegal to cultivate or build on wetlands in Zimbabwe without approval from EMA who should play a pivotal role in making sure that wetlands are preserved and protected,” said Javangwe.
Wetlands throughout America and the world over have suffered greatly at the hands of humans and in response to this ecological degradation, hundreds of millions acres of wetlands across America are now being managed through various wilderness designations including the national parks as some have been turned into recreational parks and botanical gardens.
Protection of the environment in Zimbabwe is primarily provided for in the Environmental Management Act (EMA ACT) chapter 20:20 which prohibits the unlawful invasion, draining and construction of the wetlands.
4.6 percent of Zimbabwe’s land are wetlands.