The Environmental Management Agency, Birdlife Zimbabwe, NetOne, and Haka Game Park, among other stakeholders have joined hands in commemorating the belated World Wetlands Day under the theme, “Wetlands and Biodiversity.”
This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, therefore the treaty became commonly known as the Ramsar Convention.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to this treaty hence it is mandated to protect and treat wetlands as special habitats for several forms of plants, birds and animals. The country domesticated provisions for the protection of wetlands under the Environmental Management Act (Cap 20;27), Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 on Environmental Management (Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection) Regulations and Government Gazette 380 of 2013.
Speaking at the celebrations which took place at Cleveland Dam (Haka Game Park section), one of the wetlands sites in Harare on the 7th of February 2020, the Provincial Environmental Management Officer, Mr Robson Mavondo emphasised that there was need to decide strategies to sustainably manage the wetlands for the benefit of the present and future generations.
“Wetlands play a vital role of feeding and breeding grounds for migratory birds. These flyways include World Heritage sites that are key stopover sites for birds so the effective conservation of these sites is crucial for migratory bird conservation on a global scale,” he said.
He added that agricultural activities can lead to wetlands loss and degradation and stressed the need to sustainably utilise water provided by wetlands without tampering with their natural existence.
The Acting Mayor of Harare, Cllr Stewart Mtizwa said the importance of Wetlands cannot be undervalued especially considering these days when the crisis of water shortages is rampant. He admitted that some of the activities have come out of corrupt activities within council.
“You must have heard of prosecutions over such matters of corruption. There are certain institutions that allow for certain activities to place on wetlands for example drawing large scale borehole water. On the same vein, Honourable Minister you may notice that some activities on wetlands were fuelled by politicians in search of votes and some are still doing so. Today, I’m urging different stakeholders to continue joining hands in ensuring that wetlands are protected.
“There should be prohibition of the reclamation or drainage, disturbance by drilling or tunnelling in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse impact on any wetland or adversely affect any animal or plant life therein,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of State and Provincial Affairs, Jabulani Ndebele said it was disconcerting to note that wetlands are vanishing three times faster than forests, a worrisome development.
“Wetlands biodiversity is in steep decline. Destruction of wetlands is a cause for concern. About 35 percent of wetlands have disappeared since the 1970s and 87 percent have been lost since the 1700s.
“As you may have observed that our rainfall patterns and seasons have been changing over the past few years. It is estimated that over one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction and climate change is worsening the situation. In this regard we really need to conserve our wetlands. We cannot fold our hands and watch all the biodiversity found in our wetlands disappear. Preservation of wetlands also helps in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change,” he said.
In supporting the protection of wetlands, NetOne handed over sport kits to more than 10 schools explaining that through sport, school children must continue to push the message of preserving wetlands and the environment.
Dr Eldrette Shereni who is the Communications Executive at NetOne said her organisation had seen it imperative to participate at such an important day giving by back to the community. She highlighted that conserving wetlands was critical for the enhancement of biodiversity and household food security.
“As NetOne, we are a responsible network provider and we will continue encouraging for the protection of wetlands and their biodiversity as a vital task of humanity. World Heritage Wetland Sites are an important habitat for biodiversity. Unfortunately, they are also threatened by pollution, climate change, dams and over exploitation. It is our responsibility as as an organisation to make concerted effort in ensuring that such activities come to an end,” she said.
In his remarks, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Haka Game Park, Mohammed Hassim Surtee stressed that wetlands ensure food security if sustainably utilised.
“These sites trap moderate amounts of soil running off nearby uplands before they enter lakes and streams. They also play an important role of maintaining and improving water quality. By filtering contaminants and excessive nutrients they renew groundwater supplies; help and control flooding and reduce flood damage among others.
“I want to assure everyone that being situated at Cleveland Dam Ramsar Site, Haka Game Park will continue to monitor this wetland and support recreational activities including fish, hunting, nature appreciation, bird watching and so much more. This site also provides opportunities to participate in outdoor educational activities and to enjoy the aesthetic qualities of wetland,” he said.
The significance of wetland biodiversity was stressed recently by the global IPBES assessment which identified wetlands as the most threatened ecosystem. This impacts 40% of the world’s plant and animal species that live or breed in wetlands.
In Zimbabwe wetlands are also known as Matoro (Shona); Mapani (Shona);Amaxhaphozi (Ndebele).
In Zimbabwe seven sites have been designated as Ramsar protected wetlands and these are: Victoria Falls; Driefontein Grasslands; Middle Zambezi/Mana Pools; Lake Chivero; Monavale Vlei; Chinhoyi Caves and Cleverland Dam.
In Zimbabwe, commercial and housing construction projects are the greatest threat to wetlands.
The Environmental Management Act (CAP 20:27) and Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 Environmental Management (EIA and Ecosystems Protection Regulations) govern wetland utilisation in Zimbabwe. Section 113 of the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) section 113 gives the Minister of Environment powers to declare any wetland to be an ecologically sensitive area and may impose limitations on development in or around such an area.