A host of environmental challenges have besieged Lake Chivero, which in addition to ruining our water supply and nearest National Park, could impact plans to build a regional Ramsar education centre at the lake – a potentially huge project.
Eye witnesses told Harare News that trucks manned by Chinese nationals and assisted by locals, are ferrying wood cut from trees out of the national park at night. Sources say the hardwood is destined for mills and once processed, is exported to China.
Pollution of the water from sewage, industrial and domestic waste, fertiliser and pesticide run-off from urban areas and farming in the catchment area have increased through the years, and siltation of the lake has reduced capacity by a massive 20%.
The rampant poaching of fish is threatening to ruin the lake’s delicate ecosystems. Harare News toured the lake and saw fish poachers with their nets, catching fish of all kinds in broad daylight. Some of the poachers interviewed confessed to being allowed in by park rangers for an undisclosed fee. Discarded nets have washed up on all shores, and lie uncollected where they regularly ensnare and kill birds.
Youth are making a living by brick making using soil excavated close to the lake, causing erosion and further siltation.
Noise pollution completes the list, as visitors to any part of the lake are routinely bombarded with loud music from party venues operating on the club side on what one source says are lands leased from National Parks, who have shown little concern for the illegal disruption of the peace by their tenants.
Lake Chivero and its surrounding national park are an integral part of this city. Besides being our primary water source, it provides a habitat to fish, animals, and over 400 bird species, including a large number of migratory birds. At the peak of the dry season, more than 20,000 water birds congregate at this crucial water source. The park is also home to critically endangered white rhino, and offers Harare residents an affordable and interesting wilderness getaway.
Shiraaz Hasssan Kassam, Chairman of the Lake Chivero Users Association (LCUA) says, “It is becoming ever more urgent to protect aquatic ecosystems around the lake. Tree cutting and fish poaching are big issues here,” he said.
The LCUA accuses the department of National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (NPWMAZ) of Zimbabwe for failing to cooperate to address the disastrous situation at the Lake, saying that they refuse to hear the LCUA’s concerns or even attend stakeholder meetings.
Resources are an issue. “The north side of the lake has only four park rangers – this is completely inadequate for such a vast expanse of land,” said Hassam, who also called for other upstream stakeholders to be engaged to halt siltation.
Kuimba Shiri Bird Park is on the club side of the lake, and acts as Zimbabwe’s bird orphanage, housing 120 species of bird. Director Gary Stafford told Harare News that the ruin of Lake Chivero could jeopardize plans to construct a multi-million dollar SADC Ramsar education centre. Zimbabwe, specifically the Ramsar-listed Lake Chivero area, was identified as suitable for this regional hub for wetland research and education some years back. A proposal is being developed by Stafford with input from various people and organisations such as Birdlife Zimbabwe, to develop 29 hectares of land to include a laboratory, conference centre and accommodation – all in the name of wetland education and conservation. Stafford says that they intend to restore the lake and its supporting wetlands – saving our water supply, creating jobs, and building eco-tourism in the area.
“The project will be huge, and will hopefully come together in 2016. It will be funded by the World Wildlife Fund working with a National Wetland Committee,” said Stafford, who said that WWF is already in consultation with stakeholders. He also lamented National Parks’ unwillingness to participate in conservation efforts.
There are several such facilities around the world, many of which have become viable, ecologically sound businesses. The Hong Kong Wetland Park for instance, is a wetlands education facility built on incredibly precious land in the overcrowded island nation at a cost of $74 million. It receives 125,000 paying visitors a month, whilst providing water purification and other eco services valued at nearly $200 million a year.
Destruction of the lake and environs could however cost Zimbabwe the entire project as qualification for Ramsar status requires a site to have an audit showing a critical mass of biodiversity. The rampant poaching of trees, fish, and small game, coupled with the pollution and siltation of the water causing a loss of birdlife threaten Chivero’s Ramsar eligibility.
Lake water specialist Professor Christopher Magadza pointed to poor planning, a multiplicity of jurisdiction, a mismatch between the rate of urbanization and waste management investment, recent changes in climate, and a lack of public accountability as factors causing the fouling of the lake. “The lake should be declared a disaster area,” said Magadza.
Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni says that urgent solutions must be found to stop the current degradation. “The City of Harare benefits a lot from the Lake and the city takes a lot of interest in what is happening in its environs,” said the Mayor.
Repeated efforts to get comment from National Parks proved fruitless.