Zambezi Safari and Travel

From :
Mana Pools Developments
October 2011

What's going on in Mana Pools?


In summary…

  • Lodge developments as proposed by ZPWMA in Sept 2010 haven’t progressed through the 2011 season. 
  • With the rainy season upon us it might be safe to say that we have a respite until the dry season kicks in from May 2012.  There could however be other political pressure to have “favours complete” before May 2012.
  • UNESCO/IUCN has reported to the World Heritage Committee and specific requests have been made to the Zimbabwean authorities.
  • Regarding EIA’s, no statement is available or formal position known.
  • Tender recipients are known, commercial and development partners aren’t.
  • Several active campaigns intended to protect Mana Pools from over-development are on the go.

Read on for some historical background including a timeline; maps; a summary of an August 2011 report; what the industry is saying and what we believe next steps should be….

Some background on Mana Pools developments

In April 2009 Protea Hotels announced plans to build a 144-bed hotel on the Zambian shoreline of the Chiawa GMA on the lower Zambezi River directly opposite Mana Pools National Park. Strong objections were put forward by Zimbabwean, Zambian and international conservation and tourism bodies. A public campaign ensued and Protea Hotels withdrew their “planning application” in April 2010.  UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has since recognised and welcomed the fact that the “Outstanding Universal Value” of Mana Pools has not been impacted as a result.

Zimbabwe map, showing location of Mana Pools

Extent of the Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve

In June 2010 Zimbabwe’s middle Zambezi Valley was granted enhanced conservation status as a Biosphere Reserve by the United National Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve (MBZR) extends from Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park down the Zambezi River to include the Mana Pools-Sapi-Chewore complex which in itself is recognised as one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites within Zimbabwe.

Map of the Mana Pools – Sapi – Chewore complex which is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

In September 2010 Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) made a surprise move when Mana Pools stakeholders were asked to ratify four new 24-bed lodge developments on the Mana shoreline.

“ZPWMA informed stakeholders that if the new lodge proposals were ratified, the Mana Pools Management Plan would be signed by the Minister and no further developments would be allowed to take place in the Park for a 10-year period.”

This was some 18 months AFTER the 10-year Management Plan for Mana Pools had been agreed by all stakeholders. The plan had recommended that there “should be no further developments in the Zambezi riverside/floodplain zone of the Park and that only small (12-bed) semi-permanent developments should be encouraged at identified sites inland”.

In October 2010, Zambezi Society held a Member’s Consultation. In December 2010, WildZambezi called for a moratorium on developments.

In January 2011 UNESCO/IUCN representatives visited the lower Zambezi, met stakeholders and reported to the World Heritage Committee from which decisions were reached in June 2011 and relayed to the Zimbabwe authorities.

In a nutshell the World Heritage Committee requested the State Party of Zimbabwe to

“Submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a report on the state of conservation of the property, including progress in implementing the mission recommendations”
“Inform the World Heritage Centre of any planned developments in, or adjacent to, the property,
“to conduct environmental assessments for any such planned developments and submit the results to the World Heritage Centre”
“Implement the recommendations of the joint reactive monitoring mission”

i.e. “The mission recommends that the draft management plan of Mana Pools NP be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review.”

In June 2011 the management committee of MZBR was approved by the Environment Minister.  This multi stakeholder forum (including private sector and civil society members) is being used as a platform for bringing issues to the attention of the Minister.

In August 2011 a report was published in TourismUpdate.  In summary:

  • Two developments are planned for the Mana Pools shoreline. A 24 to 30-bed development called Nyamepi Lodge at the existing exclusive public campsite called Nkupe. Another similar development is planned for the existing Vine Camp location between Vundu and Ndungu sites.
  • ZPWMA are delaying the official signing of the Mana Pools Management Plan that was negotiated with stakeholders in 2009, in order to push through these developments.
  • The Management Plan advises that any new developments should not occur on the fragile and narrow “floodplain” ecology at Mana Pools. There’s no objection to development per se.
  • There’s a concern that “tenders have already been awarded” without a tender process and in the absence of Environment Impact Assessments having been completed.
  • A second concern is that local organisations “have insufficient detail” to take specific action to prevent these developments.

Mana Pools lodge development sites as defined by Zim Parks in September 2010

New development sites as defined by ZPWMA and presented during the Zambezi Society’s October 2010 Member Consultation

In response to the TourismUpdate report, a group of international tour operators requested an update on developments to UNESCO (Harare) to which a full response was received. The letter was copied to the Director General ZPWMA from whom comment will be requested again.

What the safari industry is saying

These developments contradict the Mana Pools Management Plan which encourages “low-impact” tourism development away from the Zambezi River to preserve the wilderness character of the Park and to reduce pressure on the narrow, ecologically-sensitive alluvial “floodplain”.

Main concerns include:

  • A permanent development at the new Nyamepi site between the Mana and Chiruwe rivers would block natural wildlife corridors between the interior of the Park and the Zambezi River. It would also permanently disturb a well-known breeding colony of bee-eaters which nest in the riverbanks at Mana Mouth.
  • The existing Nkupe Camp would have to be closed to the public and conflicts of visitor use are likely as the lodge will directly overlook the popular Mana Mouth recreational site. The Mana Pools Management Plan makes specific reference to avoiding “Exclusivity Zones” around lodge developments.
  • Road access to these sites is impossible during the rains. Unless major road and bridge construction were to take place, causing considerable disturbance to the ecology of the area, this developments would only be useable during the dry season.
  • Mana Pools is part of a Trans-Frontier Conservation Area and the new Nyamepi Lodge site is directly opposite Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park (where lodge developments are restricted). This site is clearly visible from Zambia.
  • It appears that sites have been allocated without a tender process, which in turn has raised concerns about insider dealing and corruption.

Permanent developments on the shoreline will have a direct and long-term impact on the ecology and wilderness appeal of Mana Pools. In the absence of EIA’s there’s simply no support for any contrary position.

Over-development of Mana Pools is a step backwards in terms of responsible, sustainable tourism. Aside from ecological impacts these proposed developments will have a detrimental effect on all tourism players in the area because the overall attraction will be diluted (the appeal of Mana Pools is largely due to its wilder and less developed character).

Locally it’s felt that the addition of expensive and exclusive lodges will further diminish the ability of regular Zimbabweans to enjoy their national heritage at affordable rates.

There’s simply no pro-development argument to be found in the safari industry on this issue – everybody canvassed over the last year is opposed to the idea. This suggests that the small group of individuals who believe that they might benefit have realised that they should keep their heads low.

The Mana Pools development saga smacks of underhand dealings

  • Local operators are being held over a barrel with the ZPWMA statement suggesting that the Management plan would be signed by the Minister, if the new lodge proposals were agreed to by stakeholders.
  • Operators are reliant upon ZPWMA for their licences which come under threat if they object openly.  As expected not a single operator has expressed public support.

There’s no commercial sense in these Mana Pools lodge developments

  • which run the risk of being subjected to the boycotts or social media campaigns of the sort that Protea attracted
  • which jeopardise the conservation status of the wider Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve or Mana Pools’ status as a World Heritage Site

It’s apparent that a small minority is trying to trade some of Zimbabwe’s heritage for personal gain.

What next?

The green season starts shortly at which point there’s limited access for development until May 2012. 

  • In the meantime formal and informal approaches to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Zimbabwe Council for Tourism, Ministry of Environment and Tourism continue – by individuals, conservation and trade bodies.
  • Social media campaigns are in place and deserve continued support.
  • Media professionals have been primed and are being kept up to date on developments.

It’s probably safe to say that there’ll be no physical progress until at least May when the rains end.
There could be other political pressure to have “favours completed” before May 2012 so watch this space.

Get behind a few active campaigns to protect Mana Pools or find out more from WildZambezi, Zambezi Society, NationalParks