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Wetlands vital in protecting our biodiversity

WORLD WETLANDS DAY [2nd February 2020]

Theme: Wetlands and Biodiversity

The World Wetlands Day celebrated on the 2nd February of every year marks the date for the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) in the Iranian City of Ramsar on the same day in 1971. The Ramsar Convention recognises the extreme importance of the ecological functions of Wetlands.

Significance of the theme

This year, the theme for the day is “wetlands and biodiversity”. The theme highlights the integrated significance of wetlands to people and planet. Wetlands nurture a great diversity of life, provide water and other resources, flooding safeguards and act as giant filters easing pollution. Biodiversity encompasses all species of microbes, plants and animals, their genetic material and the ecosystems in which they occur. Where wetlands have healthy biodiversity, they provide indispensable ecosystem services. What the theme seeks to remind us is that, Wetland biodiversity matters for our well-being, health, our food supply and business (tourism).

On the ground

Zimbabwe’s Wetlands are declining at an alarming rate, negatively impacting biodiversity and in turn people. The World Wetland Day comes at a time when Zimbabwe has ratified both the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Additionally, several laws and policies are in place to ensure Wetlands protection. For instance, the Constitution of Zimbabwe has justiciable environmental rights .The Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) and Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 Environmental Management (EIA and Ecosystems Protection Regulations), Water Act and the Regional Town and Country Planning Act all govern wetland utilisation in Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that there is in existence a legal framework which seeks to protect wetlands and consequently biodiversity in Zimbabwe.

Despite the existence of legal framework seeking to protect them, Wetlands in Zimbabwe are under threat due to agricultural expansion, rapid urbanization , quarry extraction, drilling of boreholes and pollution,commercial and residential development; road construction; resource extraction; industrial siting processes; waste; dredge and disposal. In Harare, commercial and housing construction projects are the greatest threat to wetlands.

Several cases challenging the use and development on Wetlands have passed through the courts over the years. Of note is the Harare Wetlands Trust and Newlands Residents Association v Life Covenant Church and Others

There is an increasing need to move beyond the mere existence of legal provisions, to more action in the preservation of Wetlands. There has to be enforcement of the existing legal and policy framework in the preservation of the wetlands.

What To Do?

The time has come for Zimbabwe to start building community support for Wetland management. Evidence on the ground has indicated that inefficient implementation of the existing legal framework and inter-agency inconsistences has led to the decline of Zimbabwe’s wetlands. It is now time for effective citizen participatory management of wetlands.

The effective partnership between government agencies, local communities and other stakeholders begin with an effective empowerment and capacity building of communities on wetlands, their importance and use. This entails the actual transfer of economic and political power from the few to many, and the operationalisation of community management and control of their resources.

In this decade of action, participatory wetland management is the way to go.

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