Development for Local Communities In March 2011, the German government made an important announcement – It acknowledged that there were legitimate development needs for communities around the park. So in order to avert a road across the Serengeti, it offered funding to build local roads and other projects for these communities. Equally important, it offered to help build a southern route around the Serengeti.
Tanzania’s Minister of Transport, Omar Nundu, announced on December 23 that the Chinese company, Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCEC), will conduct a US$450 million feasibility study and implementation of the railway project.
“We hope implementation will start very soon and that the feasibility study will take between three and six months and the project completed by 2015,” said Nundu. Managing Director of CCEC, Wang Xiangdong said that experts would arrive in the Tanzania next week. He said the feasibility study will be completed by April 2012 followed by the construction of the railway line and ports.
According to a report from Uganda,
“It is understood from sources close to the action in Kampala that China has offered preferential credit terms to pre-finance the feasibility study… and that the entire financing of the project may well also be arranged by China, clearly aiding their desire to establish further political and economic strongholds in the Eastern African region and cement its greater influence on the continent as the hunt for the remaining global resources intensifies.”
Another report from Uganda stated, “The Parliament did not need to approve the deal because the Chinese are carrying out the feasibility study free of charge.” says Ugandan Minister for Transport, Mr. Ambraham Byandala.
Instead of a highway, a railway would bisect the great migration. It would have the same or worse destructive impact as a commercial highway. The Serengeti as we know it would be destroyed.
A swath of land in a critical area would be removed from the Park, bisecting it two. An access road, power lines, settlement, trade, and mining would inevitably follow. An article in the Uganda press states, “The railway would also open up pending mining concessions in the area between Serengeti and Musoma and possibly give the much needed green light for a soda ash factory at Lake Natron in Tanzania.”
We knew this was a possibility and have reported on it.
See a Serengeti Watch presentation here
The Tanzanian government announced the project last April, and there were subsequent references to it in the following months. In October of this year, the press reported that the Presidents of Uganda and Tanzania had formed a task force to fast-track the project. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda said that the Musoma link was “the lifeline of the Uganda of his dreams.” These dreams now include export of oil, estimated to be $2 billion a year for the next 20 years.
At the end of June this year, Tanzania Minister for Transport Nundu said, “We intend to involve Public-Private sector Partnership (PPP) for the development of agriculture, agro-industry, manufacturing, tourism, mining, transport and service sector.”
The whole idea has been met with skepticism by transportation experts, who argued that the enormous cost and risk would deter investors. It would involve not only constructing a railway, but a series of ports and a crossing of Lake Victoria, with expensive and time consuming land-water transfers. Moreover, such a corridor would have to compete with: an upgraded Uganda-Kenya railway, with a railway from Rwanda to Tanzania already being planned, and with a possible new railway from Sudan to a port at Lamu (a World Heritage Site) on the Kenya coast.
According to one expert, the upgraded Uganda-Kenya railway alone “would make the Tanga link uncompetitive in terms of freight costs relative to the route through Mombasa, Kenya, if capital costs were to be factored into the freight rates.”
However, these same experts also concede that, should the railway be built, the shortest, most logical, and most likely route would be through the Serengeti.
Last June, Transport Minister Nundu stated that the project will consider concerns by Tanzanians and the international community of the need to preserve Serengeti National Park’s ecosystem. According to the press report.
“The proposed multi-billion-shilling railway project to run from Tanga via Arusha to Musoma will steer clear of the much contested stretch in Serengeti National Park by 100 kilometres to preserve the ecosystem, Transport minister Omari Nundu said here yesterday.” Read the article here.
But the risk is high that the Chinese study will recommend a route through the Serengeti National Park. The final decision on the routing is the responsibility of the Tanzanian government and the outcome of the feasibility study. Bypassing the Serengeti would add considerable cost and time, and quite possibly this factor alone will determine whether this development project will even be feasible. Uganda would not stand in the way if it crossed the migration route. China presumably would not care either.
See this National Geographic article. See the discussion on the southern route, here. The Serengeti Highway
The government of Tanzania is planning to build a major commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park, linking the Lake area Victoria with eastern Tanzania.
Scientists around the world agree – this ill-conceived project would destroy a priceless world heritage that has been protected by the people of Tanzania since the birth of their country. It would also cause grave danger to their entire tourist industry. See this economic impact statement.
A World Heritage Site in Danger
We sincerely believe that the road will have disastrous effects on the entire ecosystem. The northern parts of the Serengeti and the adjacent Masai Mara are critical for the wildebeest and zebra migration during the dry season, as it is the only permanent year-round water source for these herds. Recent calculations show that if wildebeest were to be cut off from these critical dry season areas, the population would likely decline from 1.3 million animals to about 200,000 (meaning a collapse to far less than a quarter of its current population and most likely the end of the great migration).
– The Frankfurt Zoological Society. Read entire article!
The planned highway (in red on the map) will cut across a pristine and remote wilderness area of the Serengeti. It carves a swath across the migration path of millions of animals, shown by the colored arrows. This is not a track or a road — it’s a high speed highway for trucks that could eventually reach hundreds a day! Traffic will inevitably grow more and more frequent, invasive, and damaging as time goes on.
According to Tanzania’s own 10-year management plan, painstakingly developed in 2005 by scientists, Park officials, and conservation organizations, the area in the northwestern part of the Park is particularly sensitive. As shown on the map below, the area of the proposed highway cuts right through areas designated by the Management Plan as “Low Use” and “Wilderness” zones. The Low Use Zone “will have a lower number and density of visitors” and “more limited road network and lower bed capacity.”
The Wilderness Zone in green “is subject to minimal disturbance. As a result, visitor access will be restricted to walking safaris, with game viewing by vehicle prohibited. The only infrastructure permitted will be a limited number of access roads that can be used by SENAPA management and support vehicles for walking safari operations.”
These areas were not determined lightly. The management plan’s authors themselves state,
“There are significant management challenges facing the Serengeti National Park and its associated wildlife and the migration that contribute to the Park’s uniqueness and global importance.
The actions we take in the next ten years to address these pressures are certain to be critical to conserving those unique aspects of the Serengeti that we all hold dear, and to our ability to fulfill the pledge made by Tanzania’s First President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, to conserve our precious heritage for the benefit of future generations.
— Serengeti 10-year General Management Plan, 2005
A Threat to the Greatest Migration on Earth
The northern Serengeti is the most remote and pristine are in the entire ecosystem. Located near the Kenya border, it is the main route for the great wildebeest migration, and is also an important elephant migration area.
The wildebeest photo was taken on May 31, 2010, in nearly the exact place where the proposed Serengeti highway would bisect this part of Serengeti and Loliondo. Not far from this spot there are survey ribbons hanging on trees.
The Tanzanian government’s own impact study states that there will be 800 vehicles a day by the year 2015, and 3,000 a day by 2035. That would be more than a million vehicles a year! Experts say that even these figures have been understated.
In the short term, heavy truck traffic will result in: loss of wildlife and human life through accidents, fragmentation of habitat and alteration of water and soil systems, and increased introduction of animal disease and alien plant life.
The highway will be a convenient pathway for increased poaching by organized gangs. They will be especially interested in the thirty-two black rhinos being introduced by the Frankfort Zoo in the next few years.
But the long term impact will be worse, as population and development grow…
Areas to the west of the Serengeti are already heavily populated. The northwestern section of the Park is a critical area for wildebeest, which use it as a refuge for much of the year. A highway will add even more human population and development.
Areas to the east of the Serengeti will be radically transformed as people migrate there and change land use from cattle grazing to farming. These areas are crucial dispersal zones for the migrating herds.
A Better Way
There is already too much commercial traffic going through the central Serengeti on its way to western Tanzania. A route is needed to link this area, to be sure. The government of Tanzania must work for development and human welfare in all areas of the country. Preserving nature is not the only task. But the answer is not to carve out a permanent commercial corridor through a World Heritage Site. The net effect will be to damage Tanzania’s vital travel industry, destroy thousands of jobs, and end a heritage of protection in place since the country’s independence.
The choice is not be between people and nature. There is no need for Tanzania to sacrifice its most precious wilderness, or income from tourism, or its heritage.
A safer alternative route to the south can bypass the Serengeti altogether and provide more economic benefit for the people of Tanzania! It would connect with paved highways to western, central, and eastern regions of the country, serving several times the number of people.
A southern route around the Serengeti can preserve Tanzania’s greatest tourism asset and spare the devastation of a priceless World Heritage Site. With the help of the world community, Tanzania can find a way to preserve its inheritance, help bring prosperity to its people, and show the world that it still leads the way in conservation.