By Rutendo Mapfumo
The importance of wetlands has been underestimated in Zimbabwe for a long time. Wetlands are part of the aquatic ecosystems and their ecological systems are being ignored by most communities. Wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment in reducing the impact of floods, absorbing pollutants and improving water quality. Unfortunately, natural and human activities have led to a massive destruction of most wetlands in the country.
A survey conducted by the Environmental Management Agency in 2013 revealed that there are sixteen (16) Wetlands in Hwange District with most of them located in Wards 3, 5, 12, and 15. Sixty percent (60%) of wetlands are categorised as moderately degraded, twenty percent (20%) stable and twenty percent (20%) severely degraded.
Songwa wetland, one of the 16 wetlands found in Hwange District in Matabeleland North Province is being sustainably managed.
The wetland which is located 5 Kilometres away from Cross Dete has led to the implementation of economic activities such as consolidated gardens and fisheries.
“The Songwa Wetland has been benefitting the Songwa communities, we have established gardens as well as fishery project which as a result is alleviating the challenges that community has ”says Councillor Cosmas Mwakiposa.
Lupote Ward 16 Councillor Mwakiposa says although the wetland is benefiting the community, there are fears that the wetland may soon be degraded as villages are turning it into a grazing spot for livestock.
“The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) have educated the community about the wetland. But villagers blame overpopulation in the village thus they are encroaching on the wetland in search of pastures for livestock” says the Councillor.
Matabeleland North Provincial Education and Publicity officer Mrs Mildred Matunga says the Hwange district wetlands are under threat due to human activities that include cultivation, trampling by livestock, vegetation clearing, effluent discharge and construction works.
“Major rivers like Lukosi, Lupote, Musona and Kamalala Dam and Lukunguni are affected by stream bank cultivation and of late brick moulding. These human induced and other natural causes have greatly contributed to the siltation of rivers such as Nyantue and Lukosi.” says Matunga.
Mrs Matunga further said climate change is also playing a leading role in the destruction of wetlands.
“The increased frequency of drought has resulted in some wetlands slowly dying up. Kasibo Wetland was known to be recharging and flowing perennially but now is slowly drying up” she says.
Wetlands are nature’s shock absorbers and act as natural sponges absorbing rainfall, recharging aquifers, creating wide surface pools and reducing flooding. Wetlands also act as storage facilities and they also help to safeguard against drought and increase resilience against climate change. However, this critical function is been compromised by poor wetland management compounded by the effects of Climate Change.
Dry conditions have forced communities to invade catchment areas of wetlands in search of wetter and fertile soils thereby practising stream bank cultivation activities that subsequently lead to siltation of water bodies. This further propagates water challenges, as it reduces the holding capacity of affected water sources or bodies.
Mrs Matunga appealed to the community to protect wetlands through improving wetland ecosystems such as integrated catchment protection for the betterment of community livelihoods.
She further advised the public to get permits to work on wetlands which comes with the required technical knowledge on sustainable utilisation of wetlands from EMA and other relevant government departments.
“Wetlands can be protected by not introducing “alien” species like sisal plants and eucalyptus as they may drain the wetland. Holistic management of the wetland catchment area guarding against overgrazing, deforestation, veld fires, and construction may save the wetland “says Matunga.
Zimbabwe has a clear legislative ammunition on wetlands provided in section 113 of the Environmental management Act (Chapter 20:27) a statutory instrument 7 of 2007 of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and the Ecosystems Protection Regulation which provides for the minister to declare any wetland an ecological sensitive area and gives him the power to impose limitations on development in or around such an area,the law also states that no person shall disturb any wetland by drilling or tunneling in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse impact on any wetland or adversely affect any animal or plant life therein.
Wetlands are areas that are flooded with water either seasonally or permanently. Wetlands are a major component of the water cycle that provides a clean source of fresh water for both people and animals. They are a home to unique and a wide variety of both fauna and flora (biodiversity). Wetlands continue to play a pivotal role in improving community livelihoods through horticultural activities which improve household food security and supplement household income.