Date of issue: 2 February 2024
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) joins international commemorations of World Wetlands Day with a reminder about the vital importance of wetlands. As a premier natural resource’s governance organization, we understand that these unique ecosystems are crucial for water purification, flood prevention, and water storage, among many other benefits that include regulating our climate by storing carbon dioxide and providing natural habitats for biodiversity.
This year, we celebrate World Wetlands Day under the theme, “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing”, which brings about the interconnectedness between wetlands and various aspects of human health. Ironically, ZELA notes the threat that human activities pose to wetlands despite this connection. A threat which has made it necessary to protect these rich patches of land at law.
ZELA prioritizes biodiversity conservation as a key component of activities and has been consistent in conscientizing the public about legal provisions that support the protection of biodiversity pillars such as wetlands. As such we implore the nation to keep in mind Section 73 of the Constitution that gives everyone the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being, and the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations.
Wetlands are a depleting resource which require combined efforts to preserve and replenish for future generations. As such, Section 73 of the Constitution gives substance to the Environmental Management (EMA) Act which in Section 97 prohibits the draining of wetlands except in accordance with a certificate issued by the Director-General of the Environmental Management Agency following an environmental impact assessment report.
Today, we also remind each other of Section 113 of the EMA (Act) which prohibits anyone from reclaiming, draining or disturbing wetlands without the express written authorisation of the Environmental Management Agency, given in consultation with the minister responsible for water resources.
Unfortunately, despite these provisions, many wetlands continue to be destroyed or degraded due to human activities such as urbanization and agriculture. It is disheartening to note that penalties for wetland destruction are proving not deterrent enough for offenders who seem to find it more profitable to destroy the natural resource and pay fines than avoid invading protected land.
In this regard, urban growth is a primary culprit, consuming the majority of these fragile and important biodiversity hotspots. There is a tug of war between the desire to build housing and the need to safeguard the environment from excessive development. Aside from construction activity, wetlands around the country are also extensively polluted due to the failure of sewer and water reticulation systems.
Noting this threat, ZELA has been at the forefront of calls for responsible development and efficient urban service delivery by urban councils. Thus, we continue to urge responsible authorities and communities to recognize the value of wetlands and act in protecting them, especially if they are to be enjoyed in the future.
To ensure wetlands are a reality in the future, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association recommends the following:
- Constant review of the policy and legal framework for the management of wetland ecosystems to ensure fines and penalties in the EMA Act are prohibitive.
- Local authorities must create and (or) enforce policies to for constant restoration, creation, and enhancement of wetlands.
- The Environmental Management Agency must scale up the monitoring of wetlands to curb invasion by developers and land barons.
- Civil society organizations must collaborate with government to advise on environmental policy, national goals and priorities and to give directions about enforcing the EMA Act.