Spare a thought for the environment

DESTRUCTIVE CONSTRUCTION . . .Brick making may be big business,and a source of livelihood to many , especially as construction takes an upward trajectory, but the destruction to the environment should not go unabated

DESTRUCTIVE CONSTRUCTION . . .Brick making may be big business,and a source of livelihood to many , especially as construction takes an upward trajectory, but the destruction to the environment should not go unabated

Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker Sir

Mr Speaker Sir, a visit to the Mt Hampden area where a number of companies and groups are into brick-making will expose just how the environment has been destroyed in search of clay soil that is a major ingredient in brick-making.

ZIMBABWE in general and Harare in particular is experiencing massive construction; both commercial and residential, which scholars and economists argue could be a sign of development.

Almost every open space, be it in the leafy suburbs or the densely populated high-density suburbs, there is always construction going on and the Government has made it clear that it endeavours to clear the housing backlog that currently stands at about 1,2 million.

Rapid construction that is going on has seen formal and informal brick-makers going all out to satisfy the market by producing bricks in their millions through whatever means. With the rate at which construction is taking place particularly residential, there are high chances that by the time we get to 2020, the housing backlog would have been significantly reduced.

But there is something that has not caught the eyes of many in the midst of all this construction that is happening, particularly in Harare.

There is massive environmental degradation that is happening in and around the capital city, as both formal and informal brick-makers are extracting clay soil at will, degrading land and leaving unrehabilitated gullies but with no real reprimand from the authorities that are legally-established to make sure the environment is protected.

There is the Environmental Management Agency that must ensure that companies that are into extraction do so in an environmentally friendly manner with the Environmental Impact Assessment expected to be issued to those who do extraction in a sustainable manner.

However, brick-makers flout these requirements mainly because of lack of enforcement by those with the mandate to ensure that any extraction or excavation be done properly.

Mr Speaker Sir, a visit to the Mt Hampden area where a number of companies and groups are into brick-making will expose just how the environment has been destroyed in search of clay soil that is a major ingredient in brick-making.

Pits

Some of the pits have been left unrehabilitated for over 15 years. – (Pic by Lloyd Gumbo)

At most of the sites, the footprint areas do not show any evidence of rehabilitation with some of the pits having been left unrehabilitated for over 15 years, yet EMA officials always see these things, but never put mechanisms in place to ensure the environment does not lose out.

Those at the sites said EMA officials regularly visited these sites and demanded fines, some of which would go to EMA while there were also claims that officials demanded bribes so that they would not be fined.

Mr Speaker Sir, while fines are regarded as a deterrent measure so that companies would not destroy the environment, EMA seems to have lost the objective of its existence as it is obsessed with fines and bribes at the expense of the environment.

By the way, EMA’s mandate is to ensure that the environment is protected and not revenue collection as if they were Zimra.

For instance, why should EMA officials keep visiting these sites and be content with fines instead of ensuring that the companies concerned rehabilitate the pits.

Brick makers are quick to dump pits where there is water, as they start digging on open spaces

Brick makers are quick to dump pits where there is water, as they start digging on open spaces. – (Pic by Lloyd Gumbo)

Better still, the fines obtained by EMA must at least go towards rehabilitation of some of these pits because failure to do so, would not justify EMA’s existence and the fines thereof.

Surely, with the money that EMA is making, can a huge chunk of that be directed towards advocacy?

Why are they not using some of the money that they get to help in the rehabilitation of some pits?

Both foreigners and locals who are into brick-making must be treated equally by being demanded to extract soil in an environmentally friendly manner.

EMA must put mechanisms in place to make follow ups on these companies to ensure that they rehabilitate where they dig.

That will also enable EMA to detect if there are any demeanours by their unscrupulous officials who may be taking bribes from these companies without enforcing the law.

Considering that Mt Hampden is where the new capital is expected to be built and with the rapid urban expansion that is going on, there are high chances that some of the areas where brick-making is being done, are bound to be building sites but construction will be impossible because of the degradation that takes place there.

There are about five big brick-making companies and several small enterprise farm brick manufacturers in Mt Hampden who are all extracting soil from deep under with no decency to rehabilitate the pits.

The brick makers quickly dump the pits where there is water and start digging on open spaces with their excavators and other earth moving machinery.

Most of the farms in Mt Hampden where these companies are extracting the soil will inevitably have pits all over unless there is urgent intervention.

The problem does not end there.

Pit sand and gravel poachers are also contributing a lot to environmental degradation where they are able to drive through town without being arrested or at least forced to disclose their source.

It is a fact that most of the poachers do not rehabilitate the pits where they dig and authorities know that but are reluctant to enforce the law.

The same thing has happened in the mining sector where companies extract minerals to the extent of diverting rivers only to be fined.

The ultimate goal should be to restore the environment not fines.

EMA isn’t there to make money but to ensure the environment is well taken care of.

As such, they should not end with fines but endeavour to have the pits rehabilitated.

It is important for the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Water and Climate and the respective ministry to visit some of these brick-making companies to appreciate degradation that is going on.

They must then take EMA to account on what they are doing about the degradation besides being obsessed with fines.

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