A rainforest under threat

ea_logoVictoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is under threat due to a new development constructed in the highly ecologically sensitive core zone.

Victoria Falls was declared a National Monument in 1937, a Protected Area in 1952 and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1989. In 2007 Victoria Falls was under threat of being de-listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site due to indiscriminate developments, lack of an integrated regional management plan, scattered helicopter operations and the location and management of the local dumpsite.

Environment Africa was one of the key partners in working together with National Parks to formulate and implement a Joint Zimbabwe/Zambia Management Plan which was signed by the two governments in 2007, for the core Rainforest area and its surrounds. Within the Joint Management Plan it is stated that there should be a complete moratorium on the construction and development of all tourism infrastructure, facilities or services within the World Heritage zone.

National Parks and Wildlife Authority of Zimbabwe partnered with a private company, Shearwater, trading as Zambezi Helicopter Company and have constructed a new development within the core zone of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site.

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(Pictured: The new restaurant and bar that has impacted negatively on the local community)

The original project was presented as an upgrade to existing facilities being the information centre, ablutions, merchandise and food and beverage amenities. This would have been acceptable within the laws and management plans governing the site. However, the developers constructed a NEW kitchen, restaurant and bar and converted and expanded the information centre into a merchandise outlet that has impacted negatively on the livelihoods of more than 1000 local artists and curio vendors.

The question is what real benefit does this development have for the community of Victoria Falls? This development is in direct contravention of the National and International laws governing the management of Monuments and World Heritage Sites and could potentially result, once again, in Zimbabwe losing their World Heritage Site status.

On initial investigation, Environment Africa reviewed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project and found it to be a flawed process relative to this project in terms of the regulations set out in the Environment Management Act. The EIA was not an independent study and incorporated a very limited and biased public participation process. Out of an estimated population of 65000 residents in Victoria Falls only seven were consulted about the project. Within the scope of the EIA, no thorough environmental and socio-economic impact studies were undertaken, the relevant governing authorities, such as the Joint World Heritage Site Management Committee, Museums and Monuments, under whose jurisdiction this Site falls and UNESCO were not consulted.

Namo Chuma, the Director of Environment Africa in Victoria Falls, facilitated an open public stakeholder meeting to discuss the concerns with regards to the new developments in the Rainforest. No-one present at the meeting voiced any support for this project and members unanimously agreed that the project should be halted with immediate effect and that the entire process should be thoroughly investigated.

In the same public meeting a representative from the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and the Environmental Management Agency spoke out strongly against the project and made direct reference to the national and international laws that have been violated.

For more information go to www.environmentafrica.org

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