Wetlands mall construction continues

Construction of a controversial multi-million mall on wetlands in Borrowdale is gathering momentum in defiance of a government gazette last year that designated it as a protected area.

Oblivious of a bleak future, kids play in a wetland in Harare.
Oblivious of a bleak future, kids play in a wetland in Harare.

Civil works are gathering pace, with constructors currently developing a road network and services. This has riled environmentalists and Borrowdale residents who want the Augur Investments project to be shifted to another area where it will not threaten underground water reserves, flora and fauna.

Last August the Ministry of Environment, then led by Minister Francis Nhema, gazetted more than 400 areas across Harare as protected wetlands. But the notice, by declaring that property rights of private owners in the designated areas would not be affected, provided a loophole for the developers.

A mall, built by the Chinese, has already been completed close to the National Sports Stadium, despite spirited campaigns against it by residents and environmentalists.

Borrowdale residents are reportedly currently lobbying the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to reverse its approval of the mall.

“It is an embarrassment in the first place that EMA would approve such a project on a crucial wetland. Its process was flawed because it assessed the environmental impact of the project in an isolated manner; it looked at pockets of the vlei instead of adopting a holistic approach,” said one of the campaigning residents.

“The fact that EMA unashamedly approved the project and construction continues on protected land has brought it, and the country, under international scrutiny and that is very bad,” he added.

He said if construction was not stopped immediately, it would be difficult to stop once buildings were up – as happened in the case of the Chinese mall that became bogged down in issues relating to compensation for the developers and owners.

Chris Mbanga, the chairperson of the Harare City Council Environmental Management Committee, warned that a continued disregard of the wetlands would worsen the city’s water crisis.

“If we don’t protect out wetlands, Harare will have no water at all in 50 years’ time,” he said. Because of the scarcity of running water, many residents have resorted to digging wells and drilling boreholes, increasing competition for the underground water held by wetlands.

The Borrowdale mall project is mired in controversy, after the Local Government ministry gave Augur Investments the land as part payment for the construction of Harare Airport Road.

In a research paper, Christopher Mugadza, a Nobel Laureate, biologist and leading expert on inland water, said developments on the Borrowdale wetlands would lead to loss of biodiversity, downstream flooding and loss of groundwater recharge capacity.

He also said the Environmental Impact Assessment carried out on the wetlands was “flawed”.

“It is incomprehensible that EMA approved it. Council could seek services of a competent independent reviewer for the EIA,” he said.

Saviour Kasukuwere, the current Environment Minister, could not be reached for a comment as his phone was unavailable. EMA spokesperson, Steady Kangata, was not picking his phone after repeated attempts.

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