Residents of Highlands, environmentalists and conservationists have successfully appealed to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to stop a private developer from proceeding with construction. The development would have included offices, medical facilities and housing on the vlei bordered by Orange Grove Drive, Borrowdale Race Course, Gun Hill and the Newlands by-pass.
West Property Development, a company closely linked to Augur Investments, which hopes to build the Mall of Zimbabwe on the Borrowdale Wetland, claimed that they had received Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval to undertake this Highlands Vlei development.
However, the Ministry of Environment confirmed that permission had not been given by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) for the project and instructed that developments on the vlei be stopped.
Road building and other service infrastructure had been taking place for several months before it was halted. The developer is now liable under Section 114 of the Environment Management Act to restore the land to its original condition.
Residents who live adjacent to the wetland expressed discontent over their exclusion from the EIA consultation process, which offers an opportunity to object. Indeed, they were never notified of any plans to develop on the wetland.
Environmental scientists, who recently undertook a study of the Highlands Wetland, confirmed that it is, without doubt, a wetland and must be conserved as such.
According to David Westerhout, Chairman of the Highlands Residents and Ratepayers Association, the decision of the Ministry was welcomed and it underlines the need to preserve Harare’s wetlands.
“We had heard and read numerous claims that the development was legitimate, but investigation proved that the development had not been approved. Concerned citizens and residents of Harare should be encouraged to investigate claims that inappropriate developments have been approved. The EMA should be approached and the Wetlands Survival Forum can also offer advice,” explained Westerhout.
Dorothy Wakeling, a founder member of the Wetlands Survival Forum, agreed. “The decision on Highlands Vlei is good news for wetlands survival in general,” she said. “What we are saying is that such developments can take place on high ground well away from wetland ecosystems which are extensive.”
There have been challenges on other wetlands in Harare. One of the most controversial is the Chinese constructed National Sports Stadium Mall located in the Marimba River wetland in Belvedere, Harare West. The supposed allocation of the wetland on Borrowdale Vlei, which lies behind Dandaro Village, for the site of a massive retail shopping complex, hospitals, hotels and high density cluster housing, has also excited considerable alarm and opposition.
Wakeling said that although Harare’s seasonally inundated wetlands may appear to be dry during the winter months they are in fact perennial underground water reservoirs. These are replenished in the rainy season. “Developing these areas will further reduce stream and river flow into the lake downstream of the City,” she explained.
Half of Harare’s residents have no water supply already. New pipes and more chemicals will only go part of the way in solving the problem of supply. Boreholes are drying up all over the city and Harare’s only source of water is through the wetlands.
In this issue of Harare News, we focus on wetlands in our pullout infographic section on page 5. See also page 9 where we report on the resumption of hearings by the EMA. More good news for Harare residents.