Environmental agency says powerless to act against offenders

January 20, 2021

Brenna Matendere

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has said it has limited powers in dealing with business people and individuals who have constructed properties on wetlands.  

Zimbabwe’s constitution outlaws development of housing projects and business enterprises on wetlands but wrong doing continues in cities like Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru.

In an interview with Grazers News on Tuesday (January 19), EMA spokesperson, Amkela Sidange, said the body was pursuing punitive measures against offenders but it had no power to demolish structures already built on wetlands.

“We have always been against (the) construction of buildings on wetlands. However, we have limited powers because for example we do not allocate land for housing projects or have authority to demolish the buildings. Going forward we are pushing for (the) prosecution of all culprits violating the law that prohibits (the) construction of buildings on wetlands,” she said.

Sidange revealed that, in 2020 alone, EMA issued 20 environmental protection orders against housing cooperatives in Harare alone over projects developed on wetlands.

Environmental protection orders are  used to stop projects on prohibited land.

She said Chitungwiza municipality was the latest local authority to be punished by EMA over wetlands.

“We recently issued an environmental protection order to Chitungwiza council. We have not been ignoring any cases. If you check with individuals or business persons who built properties on wetlands, you will find out that all of them were either fined or issued with protection orders. However, we do not have powers beyond that, like demolishing the properties. That is for another regulatory authority.” she said.

Sidange said some offenders have been fined as much as ZW$800 000, which is equivalent to level 14 of fines, which is the topmost category of related fines.

Harare, according to council, has 30, 000 illegal settlements.

In a statement released on Sunday, EMA warned people settled on wetlands to immediately vacate the places.

“EMA is still also urging those settled on wetlands and along stream banks to move away from those areas, and to stop wetland and stream bank cultivation, for the good of the environment and that of public health,” said the agency.

EMA also reiterated that it was “time for the public to uphold ‘the prevention is better than cure’ agenda in environmental management by following all necessary guidance given by the agency and other relevant authorities, and in the process protect the environment and the health of the public”.

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