Controversy over development near Victoria Falls


Environmentalists are complaining that the tour company Shearwater Adventures has violated national and international law by expanding their luxury resort into the rainforest near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Shearwater has constructed a new restaurant, bar, kitchen, and information center next to the public entrance to the World Heritage Site. A lawyer for Shearwater insists the development is a legal replacement of earlier structures that had fallen into disrepair and that none of the new buildings go outside the area already reserved for facilities. Opponents to the construction contend that the buildings are on a much larger scale than the previous ones and are forbidden by a 2007 moratorium. This was put in place after UNESCO threaten to rescind Victoria Falls’ World Heritage status after a local businessman tried to build a hotel and golf course in the World Heritage zone.

Without being on the ground it’s hard to say if who’s telling the truth here. Last week The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe ordered that no new construction take place. It is now running the site along with the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which used to have sole authority. The government is currently trying to decide which body will run the Falls.

As this shakeup is going on, conservationists say Shearwater is planning a giant $6 million development next to the VIP entrance to the Falls. This will include a complex of buildings close enough to the Falls to threaten its World Heritage status. There’s also worry about the development’s location only a few yards from the Zambezi River.

[Photo courtesy user colmdc via Gadling's flickr pool]