THE Forestry Commission has warned that the rampant deforestation of Christmas Pass in Mutare by wood poachers who are desecrating the once magnificent scenic mountain may result in heavy mudslides in the event of a cyclone or heavy rains which can result in the blockade of the meandering highway which is a link in the Beira Corridor.
In the event of mudslides or rock fall into the Christmas Pass highway, the transit of haulage trucks using the Beira Corridor will be hampered.
This is mainly because Forbes Border Post in Mutare is the quickest gateway to the Indian Ocean, given that the port of Beira in Mozambique is 300km away from the eastern border city.
The Beira Corridor is one of southern Africa’s main transport routes, linking Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique to the port of Beira on the Indian Ocean. The link is for both road and rail networks.
The Christmas Pass is famous for its breathtaking panoramic view of the city of Mutare. However, there has been serious destruction of the natural vegetation by wood poachers.
The development on Wednesday prompted a crisis meeting in Mutare by stakeholders such as the Forestry Commission, Mutare City Council, Environmental Management Authority (Ema), residents’ associations, police and civil society organisations which included the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG).
The meeting was held at the Civic Centre.
Friends of Vumba and the Mutare River Rehabilitation organisation led by Lynne James also attended the crucial indaba.
Tom Phillip, the Manicaland provincial Forestry Commission head, shared photos of how Christmas Pass looked like in the last decade and how it is now.
The past photo depicted a densely populated Christmas Pass with trees and green pasture while the present one showed a near-barren swathe of land with spacious trees as well as man-made strips of pathways created by wood poachers and a residential building.
Phillip explained that with its state, the Christmas Pass could degenerate into mud slides, blocking the meandering highway in the event of heavy rains caused by climate change which could literally block the passage that leads in and out of Mutare.
“The road strips that have been created by the wood poachers as they drag logs to the main road can also see water from heavy rains flowing along them downwards which could spark a very big disaster. In the event of a cyclone, the situation could be even worse,” Philip said, adding: “The sustainability of Christmas Pass is under serious threat. The Pass is under siege. We need to do something.”
He explained that the massive deforestation of Christmas Pass has largely been caused by the exponential growth in the population of Mutare, resulting in the high demand for energy.
“We have been doing patrols and issuing tickets to the culprits conducting deforestation of Christmas Pass, but the situation is not yet under control. We face a big disaster because the loosened soil can be slid directly into the highway because it’s no longer being held by dense trees like in the past. The current crisis needs serious attention,” he said.
The Wednesday crisis meeting in Mutare came out with two resolutions.
The first one was creation of an action group that comprises Ema, Forestry Commission and police to superintend over protection of Christmas Pass against the ongoing mass deforestation.
The second resolution was holding a follow-up meeting to strategise around the promotion of alternative energy sources in Mutare such as sawdust.