Rural urban migration, a ballooning population, corruption and the attendant pressure for housing has created a dangerous trend as more and more people are being settled on wetlands in various urban areas.
A recent report detailed how the Harare City Council had offered its own workers stands in wetland areas as compensation for salaries which they are failing to pay.
This is a practice that has slowly become entrenched as many people are getting settled on these areas, some as squatters and others legally.
The Chinese Longcheng Complex is one of the infamous examples having been seen through by the use of political connections.
The Mall was constructed by a Chinese company called Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Corporation at an estimated cost of $200 million.
This was despite attempts by the Environmental Management Agency to block its building on grounds that it was situated on a wetland.
However only Harare City Council was fined but the then Environmental Minister Francis Nhema was powerless to do anything with strong suspicions the mall project also had, now President, but then Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa involved.
Then Harare Wetlands Trust coordinator Julia Pierini bemoaned the compromising effect of personal agendas in the protection of wetlands.
“One of the main missing things is the will to protect the environment. People’s personal agendas are coming in”.
The Chinese have also been accused of extensive damage in the natural flow of Insiza and Umzingwane by causing siltation.
Wetlands account for a mere 5% of the country’s land area which is a tiny portion when compared to other Southern Africa nations such as Zambia which has 19%.
Wetlands preserve water quality by removing nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides from agricultural runoff. These chemicals and nutrients can enter a wetland through surface water and sediment or through ground water.
They also act as a buffer for excess rain such that when an area gets a lot of rain the wetlands soak up the excess water like a sponge. When it’s dry, wetlands then slowly release the water that is stored in them.
Increased use of boreholes at a time wetlands are also being abused may lead to the going down of the water table meaning that it will take longer to reach water when drilling boreholes.
As pressure for land has increased, land has become a commodity and a tool for political campaigns.
This has resulted in many politicians allowing the use and abuse of wetlands as a way of winning political mileage with the electorate.
Former Mabvuku-Tafara MP James Maridadi was quoted on this aspect of land in urban areas which he says has devalued the resolve to protect them.
“Land has always been viewed as a campaign tool”, he said.
This has seen some people being allowed to stay on in wetland areas as removing them would be viewed as a political dangerous move.
With no political backing the issue has remained an EMA issue and the agency has also been found lacking as the most it has been doing has been to fine those who break the law whilst the much important Environmental Impact Assessments are done by private players whose obligations lie elsewhere.
“Chances are very high that someone who would have been paid to do the EIA does what the developer wants, and that influences the EIA process”, Ronnia Chirimuta, a member of the Marlborough Environmental Action Group says.
In Norton the tile and ceramic factory Sunny Yi Feng again has had issues to do with environmental abuse with its system to discharge raw effluent into nearby rivers and dams.
It had to take the local legislator Temba Mliswa to go to court against them before they began complying with the EMA stipulations.
Again consistent with other such corporate cases of environmental abuse was the presence of political connections in the scam to abuse wetlands and the environment.
At a time the country is in the throes of climate induced droughts it would be expected that more attention is paid to the care for such ecological factors as wetlands but alas the web of corruption is everywhere.