A community in Lusaka’s Chalimbana area has threatened to sue government for encroaching on a forest reserve where the Zambia Air Force has built staff houses and another developer is turning the land into an affluent suburb.

In a letter addressed to the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Lands and dated September 12, 2017, H.H Ndhlovu and Company stated that their clients, Chalimbana River Headwaters Trust, were shocked that the construction of Kingland project had began without an approved environmental assesment.

“The area where the Zambia Air Force houses have been constructed on Twin Palm Road, as well as the location of the recently commenced Kingsland City Project, also on Twin Palm Road is within the Local Forest Reserve No. 27 and there is no record of any legal process that has been undertaken to degazette that forest and change its land use. The Kingsland project as you are aware is a huge project involving multi-purpose activities including housing, hospital, school and various other social and recreational activities. It is further alarming to note that the Kingsland Project has commenced without an approved environmental assessment as required under the Environmental Management Act of 2011 and it is therefore illegal,” H.H Ndhlovu and Company stated.

“The community has thereby been denied the right to participate in environmental decision making as required by law. The activities currently taking place are not only a breach of Zambia’s commitments to regional protocols but also pose a danger to the integrity of the Chalimbana Catchment area and the entire local ecosystem. The result of the activities will lead to irreparable damage to the local environment and the Chalimbana river and its tributaries and is a complete abrogation of the intended purpose for protection of the forest by law. As it stands now, the Chalimbana river has already been contaminated by sewage from the ZAF Twin Palm housing estate. This causes a grave risk of dysentery, typhoid, cholera and other communicable diseases to the riparian community along Chalimbana River and especially the people of Chieftainess Nkomeshya’s area.”

The law firm stated that its clients were shocked by the activities which were going on in the forest.

“The brief history of the local forest is that it was gazzetted as a local forest in order to use it exclusively for conservation so that the land is protected and to protect water supplies in the local area. Studies have also shown that Local Forest Reserve No. 27 is a recharge area for the Chalimbana River and its tributaries and as such is a very important forest. Further, the forest is located within the Lower Zambezi River Basin which is covered under the SADC and Zambezi River Commission protocols to which Zambia is a party. In addition, Zambia under its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Paris Agreement under its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) has been using forests including Forest Reserve 27 to sequester the emission of greenhouse gasses. This was even referred to by President Edgar Lungu when he addressed the United Nations Secretariat in September last year. Our clients have therefore been perturbed at the activities that are taking place in the local forest,” read the letter.

“You may wish to know that in 1983 the forest was degazetted to be used for munitions training by the defence forces. However, the local community noticed that there was almost total destruction of the forest as a result of encroachment and deforestation taking place due to the degazetting. The small holder farmers and residents organized and signed a petition demanding that the President re-gazette the forest reserve so that it could be saved from destruction. It should be noted that a total of over 2,500 petitioners throughout the Chalimbana River Catchment Area signed the petition. The petitioners gave very clear reasons why they were petitioning. Then President [Fredrick] Chiluba listened to the demands and reasons given by the petitioners and the local community. The President, through his Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Hon William Harrington ordered the re-gazetting of Local Forest Reserve No. 27 by Statutory Instrument No. 196 of 1996. We are advised by our clients that the local community, local small holder farmers and the environmental civil society organizations had even resorted to a costly public interest litigation which ended up in the Supreme Court in order to save the forest.”

H.H Ndhlovu and Company also stated that the Chalimbana community was shocked to learn that government had published a statutory instrument which aimed to reduce the boundaries of the forest.

“It is also important to note that Forest Reserve No 27 is one of the only two remaining open green spaces in Lusaka for Education, heritage and its invaluable ecosystem services as shown in the studies that have been made. The above being the case our clients have been alarmed to discover that in addition to the illegal activities already taking place in the local forest, government has now promulgated Statutory Instrument No. 62 of 2017, the aim of which is to further reduce the area of the Forest Reserve No. 27. This alteration will consequently reduce the effectiveness of the original purpose of the said forest reserve which has been fought for by the local community, shareholder farmers and all those concerned with the protection of our environment,” read the letter.

The law firm stated that it had instructions to begin legal proceedings if all developmental activities currently and intended to be undertaken were not halted.

“Our instructions are to request government to stop all developmental activities currently and intended to be undertaken in the forest. The Chalimbana River Headwaters Conservation Trust has submitted an application to the Forest Department for Community Forest management of Local Forest Reserve No. 27 pursuant to Section 29(1)(c) and (4) of the Forest Act 2015. The Forest Department has since acknowledged receipt of the Trust’s application confirming that modalities for the setting up of the forest management committees is being worked on further to which the committee will be established. Our clients instructions are that should the current and planned destruction of Local Forest No. 27 proceed beyond the next four days, then our further instructions are to commence action in the courts of law,” read the letter.