25 Thu, Aug 2011

Mana Pools

Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, which is part of a larger Unesco World Heritage Site that comprises Sapi and Chewore, is one of the least developed national parks in southern Africa. But the fight to keep Mana Pools wild continues, as developers push to build in this ecologically sensitive area.

In April last year, Protea Hotels withdrew its application to the Environmental Council of Zambia to build a 144-room hotel in the Chiawa Game Management area, due to pressure from tour operators, environmentalists and the public. Wilderness Safaris also withdrew a proposed joint venture with the Zimbabwe Parks Authority.

Now, the latest bid is a proposed 24 to 30-bed development called Nyamepi Lodge. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is currently under way, with the approval of Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA). But the idea of the EIA’s proclaiming anything useful in the absence of an overall policy document is “ludicrous”, says Sally Wynn-Pitman, Information and Communications Officer of the not-for-profit NGO The Zambezi Society.

The ZPWMA has ignored a 10-year Management Plan for Mana Pools, which included negotiations with all stakeholders. After four years, the plan remains unsigned by Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment. But ZPWMA has suggested that if stakeholders ratify this development proposal, the plan will be signed by the Minister and no further developments will take place for 10 years.

Holding stakeholders to ransom is bad enough; but the ZPWMA is also ignoring Unesco’s concerns that high-impact tourism development will hurt the environment. Critically, the cumulative impact of such developments could drive away wildlife and compromise the Mana Pools floodplain if the ecosystem becomes unbalanced. Since its nomination as a World Heritage site, Mana Pools has already lost the rhino as a key species.

Objections to the proposed Zimbabwean development have been coming from all quarters.
Craig Chittenden, Director of Sunpath Safaris in Zimbabwe, is one of the Lower Zambezi tour operators that was not consulted about the development.

“The proposed lodge completely ignores the fact that Mana Pools is a World Heritage Site,” says Chittenden, saying the area already has a light and noise pollution problem thanks to motor boats, cars, light aircraft and generators. “We strongly request that the proposed development is either scrapped or moved to another location where such a huge impact on the environment won’t be felt.”

Following a ‘reactive monitoring mission’ undertaken in 2011 by Unesco and IUCN at the request of the World Heritage Committee, and in view of the reported risks of developments to the site, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been asked to co-operate to protect the property against high-impact tourism and mining threats “that could affect the Zambezi River and its catchments, or the property and protected areas adjacent to it”.

But The Zambezi Society has voiced concern that the development will go ahead because “tenders have already been awarded”, despite the apparent lack of a tender process. This “raises suspicions of insider dealing and corruption.”

The Unesco office in Harare has confirmed that an agreed and enforced long-term plan that protects the unique status of all World Heritage sites is required. If developments go ahead because money trumps ecological concerns, Mana Pools may not be much of a drawcard in future. And that would mean disaster for one of Africa’s most alluring sites.

Fiona Zerbst

The Editor


24 Aug 2011
We are a fairly big tour operator operating within the southern Africa region and will most certainly boycott any unsanctioned development within the Mana Pools area. If all tour operators and agents band together and issue an undertaking to boycott this proposed development, the developers may just rethink their investment.