11 November 2010

Zimbabwe: Tourism Company Insist Rainforest Development Was Above Board

Shearwater adventures, a tourist company accused of illegally constructing a new development inside the world famous rainforest in Victoria Falls, insists everything was done above board.

The development consists of a new kitchen, a top class restaurant and bar, plus a converted and expanded information centre, all within the core zone of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site.

Environmentalists who spoke to SW Radio Africa on Tuesday said the Victoria Falls - one of the seven natural wonders of the world - was under threat due to the new development in the highly ecologically sensitive core zone.

They said the development violates national, regional and international regulations under which a World Heritage Site is governed. But Paul Connolly, a legal advisor to Shearwater, told us it was incorrect to suggest the company broke any laws.

'There are UNESCO regulations pertaining to the site. The UNESCO regulations say, among other things, that there should be no developments in an area which is not already designated a facilities area.

'Now what nobody seems to have remembered here is that Shearwater has simply improved and developed infrastructure within the physical parameters of the buildings that have been in existence for a long time. This is already a developed area and Shearwater did not go an inch outside that designated area' Connolly said.

He added; 'The old buildings were run down and it's no secret they needed a great deal of repair. To be honest they were disgusting, so Shearwater came in and upgraded the sewage system and constructed some facilities, entirely in accordance with the laws of the country.'

Connolly complained that his clients have been made to look like 'bad people' because no one has really bothered to ask them their side of the story.

'There has been a one-sided look at the issue in contention. It is important that the other side be expressed so people can make a balanced opinion on what is actually happening here. Put simply, nobody has gone out there and measured or examined if Shearwater put up a new development outside the core zone of the World Heritage Site,' Connolly added.

On allegations that the new development, especially the curio shop, would impact negatively on the livelihoods of more than 1 000 local artists and curio vendors, Connolly denied this was the case.

'Shearwater is not in competition with curio vendors who sell traditional stuff. In fact, they are not even selling things from within the falls. If anything it will improve the number of people visiting the area and boost sales to curio vendors across the board.'

The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe moved in last week Friday to stop any further development in the rainforest area. They will now jointly manage the site with the National Parks and Wildlife management Authority who have solely been running operations there.

This is a temporary arrangement until there is an agreement between the two government parastatals of who will eventually take full charge of the site. On Tuesday cabinet ministers who oversee the two parastatals held a meeting in Harare, but what they decided or discussed is still to be relayed to the stakeholders in Victoria Falls.

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