Victories for Urban Wetlands in Bangladesh & Zimbabwe

Developers in Bangladesh illegally filled the Savar wetlands to make way for housing. Photo: Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association

ELAW partners in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are celebrating hard fought victories for wetlands near Dhaka and Harare.
Twenty years ago, developers illegally filled 550 acres of Savar wetlands, near Dhaka, to build houses. The wetlands are protected because they are in a floodplain and have a key role in the ecology of the river catchment area around Dhaka.
The Bangladesh Environmental Law Association (BELA) filed its first legal challenge to the Modhumoti Model Town 15 years ago. Last week, BELA celebrated when the Supreme Court upheld an earlier verdict, directing authorities to remove the earth from the project area and restore the wetlands within six months.
ELAW Staff Scientist Dr. Mark Chernaik provided BELA with an expert affidavit showing how the proposed housing development was contrary to recommendations of the UN Inter-Agency Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the World Bank Hazard Management Unit.
“Thank you Mark for all your support,” wrote Rizwana Hasan, BELA’s Executive Director. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the help BELA received from you. Your report was attached to our supplementary affidavit.”
In Zimbabwe, ELAW partners scored a big win this month for the Monavale wetlands, a seasonally flooded urban grassland in northwest Harare. This UN Ramsar site, designated as Wetlands of International Importance, was threatened by a developer’s plans to build houses.
“We finally managed to get a winning judgment,” wrote Fiona Iliff, a lawyer with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. “This is an international precedent for protecting wetlands, that you helped us win, so a huge thank you!”
ELAW Law Associate Killian Doherty provided Fiona with decisions from courts in Uganda, South Africa, and India to support protecting the wetlands in Zimbabwe. Mark helped document how the project damaged the Monavale wetlands in ways the Environmental Impact Assessment for the housing project failed to assess.
Congratulations Rizwana and Fiona for your good work on behalf of community members who depend on healthy urban wetlands.

For more information about ELAW’s work around the world, please contact:
Maggie Keenan
ELAW Communications Director &
Fellows Program Coordinator
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide