A wetland is a low lying marshy area and forms headwaters for rivers. Wetlands act as natural water reservoirs. Wetlands are considered important in re-charging the water table, naturally filtering and purifying the water, preventing erosion, siltation and flooding. It is considered extremely important therefore to keep wetlands intact as undisturbed wetlands act as carbon sinks, re-supply rivers and streams, and save ratepayers money, by providing a natural water purification service.
In Harare, which is built on a watershed, the wetlands to the west of Borrowdale Road and south of Arcturus Road, form the headwaters of the Manyame/Marimba/Gwebi catchment basin, on which the city is built. To the north and east of this watershed, the flow goes to the Mazowe River via the Umwindsi River system. The west/south basin is the only water source for half the population of Zimbabwe, as all Harare water is taken from Lake Chivero on the Manyame River.
The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The List of Wetlands of International Importance included 2,266 Ramsar Sites in March 2016 covering over 2.1 million square kilometres globally.
Wetlands are an important component of Zimbabwe’s environment. This is evidenced by Zimbabwe being a Signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of 1971. Zimbabwe has 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 (EIA) and Ecosystems Protection) Regulations and Government Gazette 380 of 2013.
In Zimbabwe wetlands are also known as: Matoro/Mapani (Shona);Amaxhaphozi (Ndebele). Designated Ramsar Protected Wetlands Sites in Zimbabwe:
- Victoria Falls
- Driefontein Grasslands
- Middle Zambezi/Mana Pools National Park
- Lake Chivero Recreational Park
- Monavale Vlei (Harare)
- Chinhoyi Caves
- Cleveland Dam
Importance of Wetlands
Wetlands are important for a number of reasons. They perform environmental functions, including:
- helping to reduce the impacts from storm damage and flooding
- maintaining good water quality in rivers
- recharging groundwater
- storing carbon
- helping to stabilise climatic conditions
- controlling pests
- acting as important sites for biodiversity (Biodiversity in Zimbabwe).
Wetlands also provide significant economic, social and cultural benefits:
- Wetlands are important for primary products such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry.
- Many coastal and inland wetlands are popular for tourism and recreational activities such as swimming, boating, fishing, camping and bird-watching, e.g, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Okavango Delta in Botswana.
- Wetlands have Indigenous cultural significance, historical significance and are important for science and education.
Wetland degradation in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe's cities, especially in Harare wetlands are under threat from degradation due to construction of buildings, agriculture and general pollution. A few organisations by residents have been formed to lobby against the degradation of wetlands, amoung them;
- Marlborough Environmental Action Group (to conserve Marlborough Vlei)
- Conservation Society of Monavale (to conserve Monavale Vlei)
Drivers of wetland degradation in Zimbabwe
Our wetlands are under threat, not from natural causes but from human activities. These include:
- Agricultural activities
- Commercial and residential development
- road construction
- resource extraction
- industrial siting processes
- illegal waste disposal
- Cultivation of forest trees (silviculture)
Flooded houses built on Wetlands in Zimbabwe
Heavy rains pounded the dormitory town of Chitungwiza on Friday 29 January 2021 leaving a trail of disaster with hundreds of families affected after their homes and property were destroyed. However, no loss of life was reported. Government spokesperson Nick Mangwana said the crisis in Chitungwiza needed urgent intervention before blaming the residents for constructing houses on wetlands.
“Not a good situation at all. Definitely building on wetlands is self-defeating,” he said.
“Flash Floods have been reported in Chitungwiza Unit M, N, A, Zengeza 4 and Manyame. The provincial emergency services and rescue sub-committee are going there this morning (Saturday 30 January 2021) for initial assessment and possible action.”
Some homes built on wetlands were flooded to window level, and household property worth thousands of dollars was destroyed. Corrupt Chitungwiza Town Council senior officials, councilors and land barons have continued parceling out stands in undesignated areas despite repeated warnings by the government against the move.