Smoke and thunder over hotel

And the government has maintained that despite laying a foundation stone on the site recently, it would wait for the environmental impact assessment report before stating its position on the matter.

According to correspondence to the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ), Zambezi Society director Dick Pitman said the potential impact on the environment from such huge investment would be catastrophic and difficult to contend with.

“There appears to be no clear reason why the development has to straddle the Maramba River, and not be contained on one side of the river. This approach would significantly lessen the impact on the wildlife corridor along the Maramba River,” read part of the letter by Pitman.

According to Pitman, Zambia Society, a regionally focused organisation dedicated to conserving the natural resources of the Zambezi Basin while encouraging sustainable human development, was concerned at the apparent absence of a clear land use management plan for the park.

He wondered if a management plan existed for the park, clearly indicating zones of high use, low use, remote and wilderness areas, and the type of development permitted within the zones.

Pitman urged the Zambian government to formulate for the park with full consultation before agreeing to any proposed development.

The International Union for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IUCN) has questioned the legality of laying a foundation stone by the Zambian government for the proposed construction of the structures before relevant authorities were consulted.

“The foundation stone already exists and nowhere does it state that the other party to this, Zimbabwe, has agreed,” he said last week after visiting the controversial site.

World Heritage Centre (WHC) deputy director Rao Kishore said his organisation had not yet received a report on the controversial investment.

He explained that there were guidelines which each party to any development in the national park should follow to avoid unnecessary controversy or threats to the heritage site.

And National Heritage Conservation Commission director Donald Chikumbi explained that the visit by the two officials from IUCN and WHC was prompted by reports that Zimbabwe was concerned over the authorisation of the construction without its consent.

However, the government has said it would wait for the environmental impact assessment report being issuing its position on the matter.

Tourism and Environmental Minister Kabinga Pande said it was too early for him to comment on the matter before studying the report.

“It would be premature to comment now as you are aware there are debates going on about the matter, but we would rather wait for the environmental impact assessment report from ECZ before we issue a comprehensive report,” he said without explaining reasons why the government recently laid a foundation stone at the site.

Legacy Holdings was awarded a Tourism Concession Agreement by the Zambia Wildlife Authority to establish a US$260 million golf estate incorporating two hotels, an 18-hole golf course, marina and 450 chalets a little upstream of the Victoria Falls in the park.

Legacy Holdings had, during a stakeholders’ meeting in Livingstone recently, stated that the project would create 3,000 jobs and several other opportunities for local people.

According to its chairperson, Jacob Sikazwe, the project, if allowed, would provide 1,900 tourist bed spaces and make Zambia compete with other countries in the region and other global tourism destinations.

Sikazwe had threatened to relocate the proposed US$260 million to other countries in the region if they were forced to get alternative land as proposed by various players.

Tour operators and the Zambia National Tourism Board fear that cancellation or changes to the proposed construction would deprive its nationals of 3,000 jobs in the hospitality industry if South Africa’s Legacy Holdings Limited relocates.

Tourism board chairperson Herrol Hickey urged the Environmental Council of Zambia and the Zambia Wildlife Association ‘ including other players ‘ to consider long-term benefits from the investment.

Zambia envisions increasing the bed capacity in the hospitality industry to a minimum 16,000 by the end of the year through increased traffic under the “Visit Zambia Campaign” programme.

The investment it is hoped, would attract 160, 000 additional tourists to the area and generate Zambia US$170-million more per year in foreign exchange.

Meanwhile, the SABC last week reported that Victoria Falls risks being delisted as a World Heritage Site if Zambia goes ahead with plans to build 500 tourist chalets next to the falls.

WHC officials are currently in Zimbabwe and Zambia for high-level meetings, following a request for an investigation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the World Conservation Union.

December 2006
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