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Wednesday 24 June 2009

Victoria Falls under serious environmental threat

The World Heritage status for Victoria Falls is under siege after hotel companies and environmental groups voiced their concerns on plans to increase flights over the falls.

At present there are only 6 flight operators but an additional eight is planned. Their argument is that an increased number of aircraft would damage the environment, worsen noise pollution, harm wildlife and lead to the cancellation of Victoria Falls’ World Heritage Site status.

Already two hotels have made formal complaints to World Heritage Commission in Victoria Falls. “Daily we have to endure the noise and constant irritation from these aircraft which fly directly over and above the Victoria Falls Hotel” wrote K. Snater of Victoria Falls Hotel.

UNESCO had declared a 30 kilometer radius of Zimbabwean and Zambian territory around the Victoria Falls, a World Heritage Site, in 1989. Victoria Falls is an international tourist draw card for Zimbabwe.

The heritage status came under severe threat in 2006 when the Zambian government awarded 220 hectares of land in the 66 square kilometre Mosi-O-Tunya National Park at a cost of US$ 9 million, plus an undisclosed recurring levy, to South Africa’s Legacy Group Holdings for development over a 75-year period under a tourism concession programme.

Guests at the five-star Kingdom and Victoria Falls hotels where the helicopters fly just above the hotels during their flights over the rainforest say it is “a nuisance”. If the additional eight operators are given licences, it means 16 more helicopters, taking two from each operator, and if Zambia gives eight more licences it means 32 helicopters plus the existing seven. It takes the whole number to 39 helicopters.

For environmental conservation reasons, only seven aircraft from both Zimbabwe and Zambia are currently allowed at any given time to operate over the rainforest adjoining the world-famous falls.

This is meant to preserve the delicate environment, curb noise pollution from the helicopters and protect the teeming wildlife.

Five of the seven helicopters fly from Zambia while the Zambezi Helicopter Company based in Zimbabwe has two. But eight potential helicopter operators have applied for licences to offer flights over the falls and the rainforest.

In this light, existing operators have written to the World Heritage Site committee, the local municipality, CAAZ and conservation group Environment Africa expressing their concern over the idea of increasing the number of operators.

Environment Africa manager Nhamo Chuma said the issue of helicopters, if uncontrolled, will pose the single biggest threat to the falls’ status as a World Heritage Site. “The last thing this destination can afford is more negative publicity about the increased number of helicopters. Whatever decision is made should be done with environment conservation in mind, otherwise we will lose it,” he said.

Helicopter rides in Victoria Falls — also known as “the flights of the angels” — are popular with tourists, who pay amounts ranging between US$120 and US$200 for a 15-minute flight. The phrase is attributed to British explorer David Livingstone who once described the falls as: “A sight so wonderful that angels must have gazed down on it in flight”.

The noisy choppers fly slowly at a low level over the magnificent waterfalls, giving sightseers an opportunity to enjoy the unforgettable view and capture photographic souveniers. Microlights and other fixed-wing aircraft are also available to adventure seekers.

Source: Victoria Falls under serious environmental threat (23/06/09)

Saturday 20 June 2009

Noise pollution impact fears for Vic Falls elephants

Noise pollution from helicopter flights over Victoria Falls could badly affect important elephant herds in Zimbabwe, environmentalists have warned.

They say senior government ministers are backing plans for a four-fold increase in tourist flights.

It is part of attempts to take advantage of an expected tourist boom when neighbouring South Africa hosts next year's football World Cup.

Work has already begun on new helipads but without official permission.

Zimbabwean Environment Minister Francis Nehema says no environmental impact assessment has been made - and without it the scheme cannot go ahead.

"It doesn't matter who you are. We want it done. It is a prerequisite," he said.

Zimbabwean journalist Brian Hungwe says at present just five helicopters fly over the falls at any one time.

That figure is set to grow to around 20, as tourists scramble to secure stunning aerial views of one of the world's most spectacular sights, he says.

But environmentalists fear excessive noise pollution will have an adverse effect on the behaviour patterns of the elephants.

And Deliwe Utete from non-governmental organisation Environment Africa says if the elephants flee it could have worrying repercussions for the resort's entire ecosystem, affecting thousands of wild animals and birds.

Source: Noise fear for Zimbabwe elephants (19/06/09)

Friday 19 June 2009

Vic Falls Heritage Status Threatened

Victoria Falls World Heritage status is under threat after two hoteliers at the prime resort town petitioned the World Heritage Commission against noise pollution in the town.
The hoteliers, The Victoria Falls Hotel and the Kingdom, separately wrote to the World Heritage Commission saying noise generated by frequent flights over the Falls and through gorges and the number of licences given to helicopter operators were a cause for concern.
They warned that if left unchecked they 'pose the single biggest threat to our status'.
According to letters seen by the Zimbabwe Independent this week, the hotel groups say the flights over the hotel were depriving their guests "of a quiet and relaxing environment."
"On behalf of the Victoria Falls Hotel, I would like to register a complaint against the helicopters and the noise they produce which has a negative impact on the environment and likewise destroys the atmosphere in our hotel and grounds," reads the letter.
"Daily we have to endure the noise and constant irritation from these aircraft which fly directly over and above the Victoria Falls Hotel," the report said.
Said the letter: "If one considers that current hotel occupancies are running at approximately 20% of capacity surely when normal higher occupancies return the environment cannot sustain the impact of the increased flights, increased operators and increased frequency of the helicopters."
At present there are two operators flying: Zambian United Air Charters with two helicopters, Batoka Skies (three helicopters) and Zambezi Helicopters with two helicopters.
The Independent understands that plans are at an advanced stage to license up to eight more operators.