Protecting Harare’s wetland ecosystems for nature and the city’s people

Marlborough Vlei - an important wetland in Harare City. Photo: COSMO

Context
The capital city of Zimbabwe, Harare, is built on the catchment areas of two lakes, Chivero and Manyame, which provide the city with water. Vleis, dambos, marshes and open green spaces within the city form the headwaters of the Manyame catchment basin which in turn feeds into Chivero and Manyame impoundments downstream.
Over the past 10 years, due to rural to urban migration, Greater Harare now hosts about 7 million people, who all depend on water from this catchment.  With the population in the Manyame catchment area doubling every 12 years the pressure for services is not matched by planning, water supply and waste water treatment infrastructure development, and provision of green areas. As a result, the wetlands in Harare are threatened by cultivation, development and construction, dumping of waste, invasive alien species, and siltation.
There is therefore an urgent need to continue to raise awareness of the value and functions of wetlands and the benefits they provide to communities.

Conservation successes at Monavale Vlei provide a replicable model
Monavale is a residential suburb in Harare with over 1,200 residents. In 2001, when the adjacent Monavale Vlei came under threat from commercial horticulture, the local community united and together with other stakeholders, including BirdLife Zimbabwe, took action against the landowners to prevent a ten hectare section of the Vlei from being destroyed. At a landmark stakeholders meeting at the City of Harare Town House in May 2005 it was agreed that Monavale Vlei should become a Protected Area and a model for protection of all of Harare’s wetlands. In 2005 the Conservation Society of Monavale (COSMO) was constituted and has since worked under the Management Plan formulated by a wide range of stakeholders in 2006. As a result Monavale Vlei has now progressed to the status of being one of Zimbabwe’s Ramsar sites.

The successes at Monavale Vlei deserve widespread replication and Marlborough Vlei has been identified as the next candidate site. Marlborough Vlei is situated 13 km north-west of the central part of the Harare. The Vlei is a seasonally wet grassland area that supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna and which forms an important part of the water catchment of Lake Manyame which together with Lake Chivero constitutes an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Ramsar site.
Marlborough Vlei is threatened by cultivation, sewer overflow from the nearby sewer ponds and dumping of rubbish. Local residents are concerned about the welfare of this wetland and water provision and have agreed to form a Residents Association. Residents of Marlborough and Harare will benefit greatly from another conserved vlei. Such benefits include a place within city limits where they can enjoy recreation while the Vlei can also be used for education in wetland ecology, natural history and nature conservation. A properly functioning vlei will also assist in flood attenuation in the years when there is excessive rain and provide more water to the tributaries of Gwebi river, providing more water for the city of Harare.

Project facts
The aim of the project is to strengthen existing efforts to reduce the degradation and loss of wetlands in Harare by gaining the support of policy makers, local authorities, NGOs, schools, colleges and communities in working towards and implementing sustainable practices for achieving environmental awareness, and conservation of wetlands using Monavale Vlei as a model and Marlborough Vlei as a practical demonstration of wetland restoration. 

The project objectives are:

1. Consolidate and further enhance conservation and restoration  at Monavale Vlei
2. Conserve and rehabilitate Marlborough Vlei through the engagement of residents and other stakeholders
3. Raise the awareness of the importance of Harare’s  wetland ecosystems services and values  to the residents of Harare

The long-term impact of the project will be at least two well protected, restored and managed wetlands in Harare to ensure additional clean water to the Harare population. These two wetlands will safeguard important biodiversity, serving as centres for education and awareness raising and providing key ecosystem functions including water purification, groundwater recharge, water flow regulation into streams and rivers. In addition, the project will improve awareness and appreciation of wetland values among local communities, policy makers, city planners and developers across Harare, hence increasing interest and actions to protect more wetlands.

The project duration is from November 2013 to May 2015.

The project is implemented by BirdLife Zimbabwe, The Conservation Society of Monavale (COSMO) and BirdLife International.

Contacts: Dorothy Wakeling, COSMO Project Coordinator, and Albert Schenk, BirdLife International Project Manager

Funding support is provided by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation.