CONSTRUCTION of a luxury tent camp within a leading tourist resort Mana Pools has fuelled the controversy engulfing the environmentally-protected Unesco World Heritage Site buffeted by miners who want to extract precious minerals from the wildlife-rich area amid fierce resistance from conservationists. Report by Tendai Marima
As reported in the Zimbabwe Independent last week, government has issued two heavy mineral sand exploration licences to Habbard Investments (Pvt) Ltd within Mana Pools National Park, causing a storm of protest by eco-activist group, Zambezi Society.
The organisation, which conserves wildlife and wilderness in the Zambezi valley, has also been campaigning against the construction of tented chalets on the banks of the Zambezi River.
In 2010 the government invited private investors to lodge business proposals to develop the area and generate revenue. ECIS Investments (Pvt) Ltd, a Harare-registered company, expressed interest and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources swiftly approved and signed a lease, renting out a 1km two patches of land 45 metres from the Zambezi River.
At an estimated cost of US$94 100, ECIS began laying a wooden platform foundation in June this year as it initiated work on a project in which it proposes to construct a solar-powered thatched lodge equipped with a bar, two patios, a dozen en-suite chalets, 24 single rooms for staff and a swimming pool.
However, stakeholders, including Unesco, have objected to the construction of Mana Pools Safari Camp because the Management Plan for Mana Pools National Park, drafted by the government in 2008, limits construction to 12-bed semi-permanent structures in the area. ECIS plan to build a unit with at least 36 beds, including staff quarters.
Citing the draft plan, Zambezi Society has complained about ECIS building on the Zambezi’s sensitive shoreline. “During the management planning process, stakeholders agreed that further developments along the Zambezi River frontage at Mana Pools would likely increase tourism pressure to a level which could damage the very fragile ecosystem of Mana Pools,” the organisation’s spokesperson Sally Win said.
“The Plan recommended 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.”
An Environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted by Vibes Consultancy in June 2011, but environmentalist groups have questioned its validity because of inadequate public consultation and EIA’s insufficient plans for disposal of sewage waste and how to block wild animals from accessing the swimming pool.
A letter dated March 12, 2012 written by Zambezi Society to the Environmental Management Authority expresses these and other concerns. “We, along with colleagues representing the Unesco Mana and Biosphere Committee, have perused the EIA for the Mana Pools Safari Camp,” reads the letter signed by the organisation’s chairman Noah Madviza and strategic director Richard Maasdorp.
“The consultants obviously have no idea about access into Mana Pools for such things as sewage disposal lorries. During the rainy season, roads are completely impassable. No details (from Vibes Consultancy) about what will happen if they are found to be leaking into the Zambezi River. There are some mitigating measures mentioned for solid waste management, but they are straight out of an EIA guidance manual, and in many cases not appropriate for the Mana Pools environment.
“There is a very high population of elephants and hippos in Mana Pools. It is common for swimming pools at safari camps to become a major attraction for these animals seeking clean water to drink. Such a situation can lead to destruction of property, with the animals becoming a menace and eventually having to be ‘removed’ – a situation which would not be appropriate in a National Park and World Heritage Site such as Mana Pools.”
Contacted on Tuesday on the scathing criticism of the EIA, Vibes Consultancy refused to comment and directed all questions to ECIS Investments. Investigations by Zimbabwe Independent have shown that the directors of ECIS Investments include Francesco Marconati, a Zimbabwean citizen of Italian descent of 91 Piers Road, Borrowdale, Harare and Chinese national, Ms Li Song.
ECIS Investments was registered on July 5 2004 and also owns one of Zimbabwe’s eight tanneries, Eagle Tannery which is based in Harare. Calls on Wednesday to ECIS Investments about building developments were met with hostility. “Yes there is nothing wrong with it (Mana Pools Safari Camp), what do you want to know about it?” a company representative asked.
“I have been getting a lot of spinach about this, but you can go to government they are the authority to speak to about this. Don’t worry about me, I have no intention of speaking to you because the newspapers always write whatever they want, it doesn’t matter what I say.”