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    Friday, 23 August 2019

    World heritage under siege

    • Fascinating wetland dying in Chirumanzu

    Acting Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality
     Industry Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu.


    Chinu, the biggest and most fascinating natural wetland in Zimbabwe that is remarkably boggy, has three rare bird species and is among the World’s top 2 300 wetlands is under siege from uncontrolled human activities.
    A Mirror crew visited Chinu, a wetland that is 9km long in size and in the backyard of Driefontein Mission about 30km South east of Mvuma in Chirumanzu District on Sunday.
    Chinu is one of the seven declared Ramsar sites in Zimbabwe but is more unique in that it is the only one of those seven with marshes and so boggy that animals and human beings cannot walk across the wetland without sinking into the ground.
    Unconfirmed reports say that a white commercial farmer and his horse sunk and disappeared into marshes of Chinu. Villagers showed The Mirror crew gum trees grown at the border of the marshes to signify the tragic incident.
    However, despite its international significance and immense tourism opportunities, one cannot stop noticing the striking neglect of the place declared by UNESCO during a 1971 meeting in the City of Ramsar, Iran as one of the 2 300 wetlands in the World that must be protected by Governments.
    Villagers have built gardens and dug wells throughout the wetland creating an eyesore in the vast beauty that used to be the place. The wetland is overgrazed and the chairman of Chinu Wetlands Conservation Committee, Cosmas Chikondo told The Mirror in an interview that the place is drying up and there is drastic change from  what it was in 2000 when the place became a rural area under the fast track land reform programme.
    Nine villages with an estimated population of over 300 households have put immense pressure on the wetland forcing rare birds known to inhabit the wetland to migrate elsewhere while those that remain have drastically depleted populations.
    Chirumanzu district environmental officer, Edith Nyika, said three rare birds found at the wetland are the secretary bird, grey crowned crane and wattle cranes. These are occasionally seen at Chinu and they could form the basis for tourism with visitors coming to do bird watching.
    According to Unesco, world wetlands have an estimated value of US$15 trillion from various commercial activities including tourism.  Chinu is a stark contrast of the aspirations of the Ramsar Convention with Government giving virtually no resources to support the sustenance of the wetland.
    There isn’t even technical Agritex support from Government.
    What one gets at Chinu are vegetable gardens mainly for subsistence and cattle keeping for draught power and such activities are a far cry of what Ramsar envisioned for such a wetland.
    There has however, been some interventions from Chirumanzu District Council and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). These have brought relief as gardens are  now gradually being pushed back out of the wetland and plans to fence off the world site are at an advanced stage so that human activities including growing crops and grazing of animals on the wetland are completely banished.
    The proactive Chirumanzi RDC and EMA has organised the villagers into protecting the wetland and a committee headed by Chikondo is taking most of the initiatives. The fact that there is a buy-in from the villagers has meant that progress in reclaiming the wetland has been stead and noticeable.
    Zimbabwe’s other six Ramsar Sites are Chinhoyi Caves, Mana Pools, Lake Chivero, Cleveland Dam, Manyame and Victoria Falls National Park.
    Chinu Wetland is shared by two other rural district councils which are Chikomba and Gutu.

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