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Harare’s Wetland Crisis: A Ticking Time Bomb

As defined by the Ramsar Convention, Wetlands are land areas that are flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently.
They are important features in the landscape that provide numerous beneficial services for people and for fish and wildlife.

By Willie Gwatimba

Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, is facing a looming water crisis that could have devastating consequences for its residents, economy, and environment. The city’s wetlands, which are crucial for water supply and flood control, are under threat from development, pollution, and neglect. The wetlands’ degradation has already led to reduced water levels in the city’s dams, posing a significant risk to the city’s water supply. If urgent action is not taken to restore and protect the wetlands, the city may face a crippling water crisis, with potentially disastrous consequences for its residents, economy, and environment.


The Ramsar Convention, an international treaty signed in 1971, aims to conserve and manage wetlands globally. Zimbabwe is a member of this convention, committing to protect its vital ecosystems. The convention’s upcoming COP15 (Conference of the Parties) in 2025 will focus on “Wetlands Restoration for a Sustainable Urban Future,” emphasizing the need for collective action to safeguard these critical ecosystems.


From a scientific point of view, Wetland restoration is the manipulation of a former or degraded wetland’s physical, chemical, or biological characteristics to return its natural functions.

Monavale Vlei, a wetland in Harare, has been under restoration efforts for 20 years. Jimmy Muropa, an environmental scout at Monavale Vlei, has been instrumental in these efforts.

“Restoration efforts have removed alien plant species and halted cultivation activities… This was achieved through collaboration with cultivators, the City of Harare, government authorities, and local residents,” he explains.


Local residents and visitors from Harare and beyond regularly visit Monavale Vlei to birdwatch, spotting specials like the Streaky-breasted Flufftail and Striped Crake, which thrive in seasonally inundated wetlands.
Striped Crake

Jimmy highlights the benefits of Monavale Vlei to learning institutions and the local community, noting that the vlei has become a vital educational hub for environmental studies.


Monavale Vlei is also home to various mammals, including bush pigs, duikers, clawless otters, slender mongooses, and large grey mongooses, despite being just 4.5 kilometers from the city center.

Dr. Rob Cunliffe, an ecologist with 30 years of experience in Zimbabwe, emphasizes the complexities around restoration efforts.

“Restoration is not just about removing invasive species and replanting native vegetation,” he notes. “It requires a deep understanding of the ecosystem’s dynamics, hydrology, and biodiversity. Moreover, restoration efforts must involve local communities and stakeholders to ensure long-term success.”

“Harare is a wetland city, built upon a network of headwater wetlands. In their natural state, these wetlands are broad, shallow grassland-covered valleys with occasional trees. Collectively, they form the natural infrastructure that is critical to the city’s water supply. These wetlands collect, store, purify, and enable ground recharge, regulating the flow of water and guarding against flooding. They provide essential services for the city’s water system. In Harare’s case, these wetlands are particularly crucial since the city is located upstream of its water supply dam, and the water from the city drains into the dam,” explained Dr. Cunliffe.

Amkela Sidange, Environmental Education and Publicity Manager at the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), highlights the severity of the situation.

“Frequent flooding is a direct result of removing these vital ecosystems that once attenuated flood risk,” she notes. “We’re seeing the consequences of neglecting our wetlands, and it’s imperative we take action now.”


Beny Matsaka, a resident of Budiriro 5, where flooding has become a persistent menace, shares his concerns.

“We lack the financial resources to rebuild elsewhere… We urgently require funding assistance to construct new structures in a safer area.”

Matsaka’s plight highlights the need for a balanced approach that considers both environmental protection and social needs.


Councillor Jacob Mafume, the Harare City Mayor, issues a stern warning to developers and residents:

“Avoid developing on wetlands, as it will ultimately lead to regret and legal consequences… We will not hesitate to take action against those who ignore the law and destroy our wetlands.”

As a member of the Ramsar Convention, Zimbabwe has a global responsibility to protect these critical ecosystems.


Julia Pierini, CEO of BirdLife Zimbabwe, stresses the urgency of the situation.

“We are running out of time… If we don’t act now, we risk losing these vital ecosystems forever, and facing a water crisis that could have far-reaching consequences.”

She advocates for strengthened legislation to dispel any development or human activity on wetlands, ensuring their protection for future generations.


As the city grapples with the consequences of wetland destruction, residents, environmentalists, and authorities must come together to find lasting solutions. The fate of Harare’s water supply, and the city’s very future, depend on it.


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