Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has implored local authorities to adhere to domestic and international laws which disapprove housing developments on wetlands.
In a statement released Tuesday in commemoration of World Wetlands Day, ZLHR noted that this has been disastrous for some residents, as their houses get flooded or destroyed, and yet some local authorities blame them for constructing houses on wetlands.
They noted that the government must develop sustainable strategies for the protection and restoration of wetlands as this is a human rights issue which requires a human rights-based solution.
This year, the day was celebrated under the theme “Wetlands and Water”, which highlights the need to protect and restore wetlands since they are a significant source of fresh water, at a time when the world is facing a growing shortage of freshwater.
Most parts of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo included, were hard hit by drought resulting in citizens going for a significant amount of time without access to clean and safe water.
ZLHR highlighted that the protection and restoration of wetlands guarantee the right to water in accordance with Section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which provides that everyone has the right to safe, clean and potable water.
“For several years, ZLHR and its partners have consistently challenged such conduct by local authorities, non-state actors and other government departments and ministries in the courts. Many notable successes have been recorded in our bid to preserve and protect wetlands.”
ZLHR reiterated that wetlands should be treated solely as water resources and legislative provisions protecting water resources should be clearly set.
“Local authorities, together with the government, should stop destroying and start restoring wetlands. There is a serious need to commit to the maintenance of the ecological character of wetlands that are considered to be Wetlands of International Importance or Ramsar Sites. These entities must increase awareness about the importance of conserving wetlands through educational campaigns and media coverage,” read the statement.
“Local authorities, through the government, should Immediately stop approving housing developments on wetlands. The government must establish an Environmental Tribunal to investigate violations of environmental laws and impose punitive action. It should introduce a new Bill in Parliament governing wetlands and covering the problem of private individuals holding title deeds over wetlands.”