December 13, 2006

Zambia blocks Victoria Falls development

Zambia has vetoed a $200-million project for a South African firm to build a hotel and golf course inside a national park near Victoria Falls after fierce opposition by environmentalists. The Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) said the development of the controversial country club would have had far reaching environmental consequences if allowed to proceed. "ECZ has, however, rejected the construction of the golf course and the 450 villas," said the council's spokesperson Justin Mukosa. This is in view of the fact that the park is too small to accommodate these facilities without disturbing the ecological balance of the area," Mukosa said. Environmentalists and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) had threatened to launch an international campaign against Zambia if the project was allowed to go ahead as it would have affected the natural heritage of the Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe, which shares the border and the falls with Zambia, had also rejected the proposed project saying it would affect its tourism industry if allowed.
However, the ECZ has allowed a South African firm, Legacy Holdings, to build two five star hotels within the park along the Zambezi river but under strict conditions. "The building on the site shall not exceed the tree tops and shall not be visible from afar," Mukosa said, adding that fencing will also be prohibited to allow free movements of elephants. He said the two hotels should be located in the north of the park because the southern area is "ecologically sensitive" and supports a major animal corridor that link the park to wildlife areas in neighbouring Botswana and Zimbabwe. "This area allocated for development is situated in a critical animal corridor that provides the only formally protected natural faunal link and will need to be preserved to the maintain the integrity of the park," Mukosa said. ECZ is an environmental law enforcing agency that is mandated to either certify or reject any proposed development taking into account the environmental effect. The Zambian government had been under pressure from the both local and international conservation organisations who wanted the proposed project to be stopped and re-located to an area outside the game park. (Zimbabwe Online, South Africa)

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