Zimbabwe is endowed with various natural resources including wetlands. These cover 3% of the area(11 717.4 km2).Of the available wetlands, a meagre 21% are stable while 18 % are severely degraded and 61% moderately degraded. This excludes reservoirs, dams, and impoundments that cover 652 151 ha and permanent rivers and streams that cover over 5700km, reads the preamble of the Wetlands Draft Policy.
The Harare Wetlands Trust and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have been lobbying the government through the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for solutions to the current country-wide wetland degradation crisis, through the presentation of technical papers and awareness campaigns. One of the many recommendations was to develop a wetland policy that would establish guidelines for how wetlands are managed. On December 1, 2020, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) hosted the first public consultative meeting via the online platform, zoom. The policy also addresses issues with respect to sanctions for the destruction of wetlands and their wise use and management.
“As a Harare Wetlands Trust we welcome the draft wetlands policy it’s a good initiative that should guide us at the national level, but our concern is that it should be all-inclusive, where all stakeholders should be consulted”, said Celestino Chari. We are only left with 50% of our wetlands and what the policy should do is to protect the wetlands 100%, there must be a revision of all the Environmental Impact assessments that we granted, the minister should be able to revise being guided by the policy.
Currently, there is no coordination in the management and protection of wetlands amongst government ministries and departments, there is no clarity of roles for catchment councils, Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) locals authorities. EMA alone cannot take all the responsibilities with regards protection of wetlands.
“The policy should give ownership of the management of wetlands to communities so that communities have the first initiative in terms of terms protecting wetlands unlike the moment where the protection is mainly centered in the hands of authorities, where it’s more on an enforcement aspect and not a management one which more reactive than proactive. Communities can be protected better when communities work together with the authorities.
Local authorities should be compelled by the policy to come up with their own wetland policies. Restoration should be an integral part of the policy, the government and all relevant authorities should come up with a framework to immediately restore all the wetlands that have been degraded.”
At a time when the availability of drinking water and the overall decline in groundwater reserves in the metropolitan province of Harare, the value of wetlands as natural water filters and reservoirs cannot be overstated. It is interesting to note that wetlands are also considered to be big carbon sinks, much larger than all forests in the world, even if they only account for less than 6% of the world’s surface.
Unfortunately, these brilliant ecosystems, which are at the very heart of our existence, are subjected to immense pressure from human exploitation and global habitation. International treaties and conventions which are meant to protect and raise awareness on the importance of wetlands such as the Ramsar Convention of 1971 have been key in the fight to protect and preserve wetlands.
According to Ramsar, wetlands constitute a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value, the loss of which would be irreparable
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Ramsar convention and has 7 wetland sites that are classified as wetlands of international importance, the seven are:
Victoria Falls National Park,
Mana Pools National Park,
Lakes Chivero and Manyame,