Zimbabwe's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) has asked stakeholders to ratify proposals for several new lodge developments in the Mana Pools National Park and World Heritage Site.
The proposals include:
- three new semi-permanent" 24-bed lodge tourism development sites along the Zambezi River frontage of the Park
- one new "semi-permanent" 24-bed lodge tourism development at the Ruckomechi Research Station inland within the Park
- one new tented camp operators' site as a replacement for one being displaced by a river frontage lodge development site above
The map above shows existing tourism development camps, lodges and sites along the Zambezi River within Mana Pools in Zimbabwe and also on the opposite (Zambian) bank of the river, as well as the four proposed riverside development locations which are marked (very approximately) with red symbols. Ruckomechi Research Station (the site of an inland development proposal) lies adjacent to the Ruckomechi River in the south-eastern section of the Mana Pools National Park and is off this map.
These development proposals have been announced after preparation of a 10-year Management Plan for Mana Pools, which included negotiations with all the stakeholders, and are not included in the Plan. Completed some 18 months ago, this Plan remains unsigned by Zimbabwe's Minister of Environment. However, at a meeting held on 20th September 2010, the ZPWMA informed stakeholders that if the above proposals are ratified, the Mana Pools Management Plan will be signed by the Minister and no further developments will be allowed to take place in the Park for a 10-year period.
In the Plan, Guiding Principles for Tourism are stated as follows:
1. Wilderness qualities will be maintained
2. Tourism away from the river will be encouraged
3. Camping and low impacted tented camps will be promoted
4. Unescorted walking will continue to be permitted
5. Citizen and educational access will be promoted
6. ZPWMA accommodation will be competitive
7. Linkages with appropriate communal areas will be encouraged
8. Exclusive use areas will be discouraged
During the management planning process, stakeholders agreed that further developments along the Zambezi River frontage at Mana Pools would be likely to increase tourism pressure to a level which could damage the very fragile ecosystem of the Mana Pools alluvial terraces known as the "floodplain" and diminish the wilderness and wildlife experience currently enjoyed by visitors to the Park. The Plan recommended, therefore, 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.
No mention of these four new proposed sites was made by the Parks Authority or any of the developers during several stakeholder consultations for the Management Plan. Indeed, although the possibility of one new riverside tourism site was discussed during stakeholder meetings, it was subsequently firmly rejected by the Authority's own planning department on the grounds that there were "already too many developments along the Zambezi River in Mana Pools".
The Parks Authority informed stakeholders that one of these proposed riverside development sites is a Joint Venture initiative between The Zimbabwe Parks Authority and Wilderness Safaris (an existing Mana Pools Tour Operator). The Authority would not name the proposed recipients of the other sites, but made it clear that the tenders have already been awarded. The sites will be leased for a maximum 25-year period (renewable every 5 years) and a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be required for each development before construction commences.
Zimbabwe-based conservation organization, The Zambezi Society, is calling for the Mana Pools National Park Management Plan to be re-visited in the light of the potential impacts these new proposals might have on the environment of Mana Pools and on the tourism experience of visitors to the Park. The organisation suggests that the Management Planning process should be widened to include the entire Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore complex which constitutes the UNESCO World Heritage Site. "We believe that this would provide for more flexibility and creativity in developing future, long-term, sustainable tourism solutions and opportunities along the Zambezi River and throughout the World Heritage Site." The Society has offered to seek funding sources for such an exercise.
Informed comments and opinions can be posted on Facebook via the group SAVE MANA POOLS.