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Environmentalists Worry about Zimbabwe Wetlands

Zimbabweans rest at a park outside Meikles Hotel in central in Harare, February 24, 2015.

Zimbabweans rest at a park outside Meikles Hotel in central in Harare, February 24, 2015.

Environmentalists in Zimbabwe are concerned about the building of shopping malls and housing on wetlands. They say the development will affect water supplies in heavily populated areas. Environmentalists say that if the work continues, the city of Harare may face water shortages or will need more money to purify its water.

Those are sounds from one of the few remaining wetlands near Harare. Unlike other parts of the city, the area is covered with green grass and a few trees.

Officials say more than 250 bird species live in the wetlands. Some of the birds travel there from other parts of the world.

But shopping malls and other buildings now cover much of the wetlands. The population of Harare has grown more than 100 percent over the past 10 years. It is now estimated at more than two million people live in Zimbabwe’s capital. Most of the increase is a result of people moving to the city from rural areas.

Another mall is planned for wetlands in Borrowdale, east of Harare. Jimmy Muropa is a conservation field officer. He worries about this development.

"We are not against any form of development, but what we are basically saying is that those malls or houses should actually be properly sited on higher ground. We are for development but on appropriate ground. Simple."

Scientists say wetlands clean up and store water. The purified water is slowly released into rivers and lakes.

Harare Residents Trust, a community group, says Zimbabwe's water prices are now high because of the destruction of wetlands.

Precious Shumba is head of the trust.

"The monitoring framework is very weak. The Environment Management Agency (EMA) does not follow laid down procedures when it comes to approval of buildings. There is so much corruption. There is no monitoring. The only relief that is available to EMA and the council is to charge penalties for violations. But they are not stopping, meaning to say that our wetlands will continue to go."

The Environment Management Agency is a government group. Its job is to guarantee sustainable use of the environment in Zimbabwe. Steady Kangata is a spokesman for the agency. He says the group was trying to share information about the importance of not building on wetlands. He denies that Harare does little to enforce wetlands laws.

"Zimbabwe laws are very comprehensive when it comes to wetlands. We are part of the Ramsar Convention pertaining to the proper utilization of wetlands. We have even gone further to domesticate the provisions of the Ramsar Convention. Wetlands are protected areas. But in the urban sector there is pressure for infrastructural development. "

Conservationist Dorothy Wakeling says the wetlands are important areas that cannot be destroyed.

"These wetlands are our only source of water. If we take all our wetlands of Harare, we are taking away our water source. What are we going to do for replenishing streams and rivers that feed into dam?"

But the demand for land for housing, businesses and offices continues to increase.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Sebastian Mhofu reported this story from Harare. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

comprehensive adj. including many, most, or all things

conservation n. protection of animals, plants, and natural resources or to prevent the loss or waste of natural resources

sector n. an area of an economy; a part of an economy that includes certain kinds of jobs

shopping mall n. a large building or group of buildings with many different stores

species n. a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants