ENVIRONMENTAL Lawyer Dr Pamela Sambo says the decision to de-gazette Forest 27 can be reversed if legal and constitutional environmental provisions were not taken into consideration at the time of de-gazettion.

As a result of an in-depth documentary done on Forest 27 by News Diggers! in partnership with Prime TV and sponsored by WAN-IFRA, several stakeholders, including traditional leaders, have debated the possible re-gazetting of the forest in order to preserve it.

In response to a press query, Dr Sambo said forest reserves that in turn affect water regeneration, such as Forest 27, were ecologically sensitive areas.

“Section 10 (1) of the Forest Act provides that ‘subject to subsection (2), the President may, by statutory instrument, declare any area of land within the Republic to be a National Forest and may, in like manner, declare that any National Forest shall cease to be a National Forest or that the boundaries of any National Forest shall be altered or extended’. The Forest Act, read together with the Water Resources Management Act and the overarching Environmental Management Act point to the need for integrated environmental management of water and forest resources. These pieces of legislation are buttressed by several constitutional provisions chief among them, Articles 253 (g) and (e) and 256 which encourage the conservation and preservation of ecologically sensitive areas. In this case, forest reserves that in turn affect water regeneration, such as Forest 27, are ecologically sensitive areas,” Dr Sambo said.

“According to section 8 of the Forest Act, there are forest principles that must be adhered to in terms of development and management of forest resources. Some of the principles require the principle that forests and trees shall be managed as an asset for succeeding generations and the need to apply the precautionary principle to the development, management, utilization and conservation of forest ecosystems, biological diversity and habitats, taking into account the best scientific evidence available. The precautionary principle of environmental law requires that where there is a reasonable suspicion that a certain activity may have environmentally harmful consequences, it is better to err on the side of caution and control that activity rather than to wait for incontrovertible scientific evidence before acting in the environmental interest.”

She said the decision to de-gazette Forest 27 can in-fact be reversed because it was an ecologically and environmentally sensitive area.

“Other principles in the Forest Act demand that in the process of developing, managing, utilizing and conserving forests and trees, the target should be reaching “sound ecological balance.” A sound ecological balance occurs when an ecosystem is organised in a state of stability where all natural resources coexist and support species within that environment,” said Dr Sambo.

“In specific reference to Forest 27, it is an ecologically and environmentally sensitive area as already stated, and it houses the Chalimbana River Catchment and Lusaka Aquifer system which are important water recharge centres for the entire Lusaka region. It is therefore a legal and constitutional obligation that any proposal to de-gazette or initiate developments in and about Forest 27 must meet prescribed environmental and forest principles. Given the foregoing, where decisions to de-gazette Forest 27 have not taken into consideration all legal and constitutional environmental provisions, they can be challenged in the courts of law and reversed if found wanting.”