Wetlands management, the answer to Harare’s water woes

The Harare Wetlands Trust has bemoaned the ongoing developments on wetlands especially in Harare which are causing severe degradation and depletion of wetland areas.
Without wetlands, cities are susceptible to unsustainability but if they are carefully managed, they remain resilient, providing the capacity to withstand extremes of climate variability.
Addressing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism recently, Julia Pierrinni of Harare Wetlands Trust emphasized that it’s not a moment too soon to declare an all hands on deck approach on Wetlands management. She stressed that wetlands destruction will only amass severe water shortages and unsustainability.
“Wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems and they give us many ecosystem services. It is time to make a wise decision, do we really want water or not because all the catchment areas that feed into dams which supply water to Harare are being sold and developed.
“If we continue to abuse wetlands we won’t have sustainable development because there won’t be any water,” she said.
Dr Rob Cunliffe concurred with Pierrini.
“Wetlands are the primary source of water for Harare. Wetland ecosystems provide a wide range of other services relating to the high biodiversity that they support and to providing open spaces within the built up environment,” said Dr Rob.
He further said that the ongoing loss and degradation of wetland ecosystems in Harare is threatening the sustainable future of Harare citing that the future of Harare will depend on the maintenance and wise management of Harare’s wetlands.
He stated that the continued loss of wetlands will effect in increased pressure on wetlands, widespread loss and degradation of wetland ecosystems.
Also, he said developments on wetlands would lead to increase in covered surface, increased and more rapid run off when it rains, increased flooding, reduced infiltration to groundwater, drying of wetland areas, lowering of the water table and less opportunity for purification of water.
Another primary function of wetlands is to purify water by filtering it as it passes through them. There is evidence that where polluted water passes through wetlands, it’s quality improves as opposed to water that does not flow through wetlands.
City of Harare has admitted that it bears a huge financial and technical burden in trying to purify polluted water for use by residents. The city council reportedly uses at least 6 different chemicals to make the water potable. The Harare Wetlands Trust mentioned that all this can be solved by letting wetlands purify most of the city’s water without the need for using valuable foreign currency to procure chemicals.
In Harare, wetlands which have been destroyed so far include Budiriro wetland, Monavale Mayfield Housing Estate, Ashdown Park wetland among several others.
Research done by the Harare Wetlands Trust shows that the loss of wetlands from 2008-2019 is 50% overally.
Ongoing developments in virtually all of Harare’s wetlands is (59/63 wetlands = 94%) on a total of 279 sites. In light of this, without immediate change the rate of loss will continue or be even higher over the coming decade.
Wetlands form a vital part of the water supply infrastructure for Harare yet they have already been greatly reduced in extent and the remaining portions extensively degraded. This is adversely affecting the supply of surface and groundwater for Harare.
Dr Rob implored the responsible authorities to prioritize maintanance of wetlands.
“The remaining wetland areas should be kept free of development and agriculture, restored to their natural state and specifically managed for water production. Failure to address this situation will directly enhance future water problems in the city and is incompatible with future sustainable development of the city,” he said.
Fiona Illiff, a lawyer with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said that most wetlands are affected by illegal occupations, unlawful developments by private individuals and approved development permits.
She recommended the City of Harare Special Committee on Commercial Land Sales and Leases to demolish all developments on wetlands, renegotiate or cancel all contracts and permits on wetlands.
Also, Illiff said that all independent experts should map out the City’s land bank, with electronic system and develop a map through comprehensive scientific process to identify its wetlands.
She mentioned that there has to be education and awareness programmes on wetlands for City of Harare employees and the public. Moreso, Illiff urged the City of Harare to apply for Wetland City Accreditation and support from Ramsar.