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Massive demolitions beckon

…As govt declares war

PHILLIMON MHLANGA

The government will make “tough decisions” and demolish thousands of illegal houses built on wetlands and land earmarked for recreational facilities as it moves to bring back sanity in urban centres.

The pending demolitions come after some houses built illegally on Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa’s land in the New Retreat suburb in Waterfalls, were demolished last week.

The government is now pushing for the demolitions of houses built on wetlands in Harare, Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Epworth, a development which will throw thousands of people onto the streets.

There are concerns that the construction of houses on wetlands were in violation of the Environmental Management Act.

Harare Provincial District Coordinator, Tafadzwa Muguti said the government was moving to restore sanity in the four local authorities— Harare, Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Epworth.

“Tough decisions need to be made. We have spoken to local authorities – Harare, Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Epworth-that we need to proceed with demolitions,” Muguti told Business Times.

“There was a motion not a court order to stop demolitions. So, evictions and demolitions are starting soon in these local authorities. Yes, we must do it. We want to bring sanity to these local authorities. Muguti added:

“It appears EMA [Environmental Management Agency] fines are not working.

The achievement is not how many people have been fined but to stop the bleeding. We have lost about 49% of wetlands in Harare in a very short period of time. So, the bleeding has to stop.”

Zimbabwe has been persistently dogged by challenges of increased demand for housing.

It is estimated that over 1.3m people are on the housing list, creating a fertile ground for land barons to fleece desperate home seekers of their hard earned money.

Most desperate home seekers bought land in wetlands from land barons who assured them that the required authority for building had been obtained. Harare is a wetland city.

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has identified about 47 wetlands in Harare, covering 24 000 hectares, meaning houses built on wetlands raise the risk of flooding as well as disturbing the ecosystem.

It is estimated that Harare alone, between 2008 and 2019, has lost close to 50% of its wetlands.

National Housing and Social Amenities minister Daniel Garwe said there was no going back on demolitions.

“People took us for fools and went on with irregular settlements. We are aware of these illegal settlements,” Garwe said.

“We told local authorities not to sell wetlands and recreational space to anyone. Demolition will take place. We are saying Zimbabwe should be an Upper middle-class country by 2030, so we can’t ignore these irregular settlements.”

Harare is situated upstream of its water supply dams. Illegal structures on wetlands disturb the ecosystem as wetlands store and purify water.

They also mitigate against climate change. Apart from that, wetlands purify water and are also habitat for a variety of animals.

They also protect against flooding and reduce sand siltation.

EMA said anyone who intends to put up structures on a wetland must first seek approval from the agency.

There are two major pieces of legislation which can be used to protect wetlands in Zimbabwe.

The law says no one should use wetlands without authority.

These are Section 113 of the EMA Act and Section 20 of Statutory Instrument 17 of 2007. EMA’s acting provincial manager for Harare, Gilbert Mugunzva said: “Before any activity is done on any piece of land, the agency should be notified by the developer or landowner through a prospective letter. The outcome of the ecological assessment is that wetlands are classified into three classes namely W1 (wet for a short period), W2 and W3 (wet for a long period).

An urban environmental planner, Percy Toriro said: “Harare and Chitungwiza are fast becoming shanty towns following massive invasions on wetlands. It’s something which is very concerning. As we lose wetlands, less water flows during dry months.”

An ecologist with Harare Wetland Trust, Rob Cunliffe said: “These wetlands ecosystems serve as a critical part of the water supply infrastructure for the cities (Harare and Chitungwiza). It’s critical that we preserve them.”

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