By Wallace Mawire
A national audit of management of wetlands conducted by the Office of the Auditor General throughout some provinces of Zimbabwe has exposed serious weaknesses in the prescribed and required international obligations to preserve the country’s water preserving bodies.
The national audit report was presented to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) under the Ministry of Environemt,Tourism and Hospitality.
This is a Value for Money Audit Report, on the Management and Protection of Wetlands by the Environmental Management Agency in terms of Section 11 of the Audit Office Act [Chapter 22:18].
According to the report wetlands management is the manipulation of an ecosystem to ensure maintenance of all functions and characteristics of the specific wetland type.
The wetland management involves activities to manage, protect, restore, manipulate and provide for the functions and values, emphasizing both quality and acreage by advocating for sustainable usage of them.
It is added in the report that wetland protection goals involve buffering wetlands from any direct human pressures that could affect wetlands’ normal functions and also maintaining important natural processes that operate on them that may be altered by human activities.
The Auditor General office says that the importance of wetlands is, water storage, acting as natural earth sponges and are sources of water for all rivers and streams. The importance also includes soaking up rain slowly and recharging ground water, rivers and streams and water quality regulation through natural filtration.They also provide habitat for plants and animals that live in semi aquatic conditions.
The office says that the audit was on protection of wetlands by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). The audit covered government designated wetlands and those under the Ramsar Convention.
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of
The Agency is responsible for ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and the protection of the environment.
The audit covered the period January 01, 2014 to July 31, 2019. The audit was carried out in five provinces out of the 10 country’s provinces.
The purpose of carrying out the audit was to assess whether the protection of the wetlands by
EMA was being done, efficiently and effectively.The audit was motivated by requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and local media reports on the degradation of wetlands.
It is reported that according to Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, every person has the right to an
environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing. It also provides for the protection of
the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.
It is reported in the audit report that the main drivers of wetland degradation were governance issues, pollution by untreated effluent, wetland cultivation and prescribed projects which include construction and mining.
The report says that the causes of continued degradation of wetlands were inadequate enforcement of orders and inequitable distribution of motor vehicles.
It says that the effects of wetland degradation were flash flooding, destruction of flora and fauna, siltation and low levels of water table causing shortages of water.
It is said that no action was taken by EMA to ensure that all local authorities produce and implement plans on environmental management and this may result in continued degradation of the environment
The audit also revealed that wetlands were being polluted by untreated effluent from local authorities, individuals, mining operations and institutions in the five provinces sampled.
It is added that out of 29 sewer systems inspected, 23 were not functioning as intended.
It was also noted that six individuals, 13 mining companies and 24 institutions were discharging untreated effluent into wetlands.
It is reported that untreated effluent discharge by local authorities and companies into open areas was attributed to non-functioning of effluent treatment systems while pollution by individuals was attributed to illegal activities.
“The continued pollution has a negative impact on the wetlands as they would affect water quality
and destroy flora and fauna,” the report notes.
It is also reported that that there is cultivation of crops in wetlands and within 30 metres from the centre of rivers.
The report says that this was more pronounced and uncontrolled in urban areas.
Driefontein, Cleveland and Monavale wetlands which are Ramsar designated sites are reported to be at threat from cultivation activities.
It is said that the EMA is not tracking the hectares affected by cultivation especially in the Ramsar
‘Continued degradation of wetlands from cultivation activities was attributed
to non-issuance and non-enforcement of orders by EMA in the provinces that were visited. Cultivation
in wetlands may result in siltation and drying up of wetlands,” the report says.
It is also reported that wetlands are also being destroyed by construction and mining activities.
It is said that from the five provinces visited, construction of houses in wetlands occurred in Harare and Midlands provinces.
The most affected wetlands are reported to be Monavale, a Ramsar designated wetland, Duri river in Chitungwiza, Budiriro, Belvedere wetlands and Ascot wetland in Gweru.
It is added that out of the five provinces visited, mining activities were more pronounced in Midlands,
Mashonaland West and Matabeleland North Provinces.
According to the audit report, a total of seven sites in Zimbabwe have been designated as ‘Ramsar protected wetlands’ covering 28 582.40 hectares.
EMA is mandated to protect and monitor all the wetlands. The seven sites are Victoria Falls, Cleveland Dam, Lake Chivero, Middle Zambezi/Mana Pools, Chinhoyi caves, Monavale Vlei and Driefontein Grasslands.