The Government of Tanzania and its President Jakaya Kikwete have reiterated their position on the planned highway cutting through the Serengeti National Park. Despite international protest and serious warnings from renowned scientists, the government is determined to go ahead with the road. On 28 January a press release was issued by the Director of Presidential Communication elaborating the reasoning behind the continued decision. The following provides background information regarding that statement.
President Kikwete is quoted with saying that “…, my Government has never decided to build a tarmac road through the Serengeti”, whereas the press release states in its first paragraph that “The Government has reiterated its position on the planned tarmac highway around the Serengeti National Park.”
The press release claims that “the Government insists the highway will not be built through the Serengeti”, however, it simultaneously highlights a statement made by the President that, “We have a responsibility to our people. They need a road and we will deliver it to them.” Though, the Government insists the highway will not be built through the Serengeti, in actuality they have only reaffirmed that it will be constructed as unpaved. It is important to note that the width of the road will be far greater than any other track passing through Serengeti and it will be linked on each side with this new proposed highway.
The Government implies that they are reducing a road currently 220 kilometres in length to just 54 kilometres. However, the 54 kilometres mentioned, despite positive claims of remaining unpaved, will have markedly different rules and regulations than the current track passing through the park. This newly built 54 kilometres will fall under “public road” laws allowing traffic to pass through 24 hours a day and will form part of the proposed 400 kilometre long new transport centerline and highway, an issue that has raised global concern since its inception in May 2010. Not only does this allow for night driving, but large lorries that are unable to pass the current roads steep terrain will have no problem barreling through the Park on this new route. Furthermore, the length of the current road often detours trucks and in contrast, the new shorter route will attract many more vehicles. Even so, the small percentage currently driving through the Park have already displayed both the financial and ecological costs it defrays: loss of lives, introduction of invasive species, high costs for road maintenance.
For those not familiar with the ecology of Serengeti this suggestion to reduce the already existing traffic by replacing the current road through the centre of the park with a new shorter road cutting through the North is misleading. Building the proposed 54 kilometres ignores all scientific facts that clearly show it will act as a barrier to the famous migration, which will cause the wildebeest population to decline significantly and in turn cause the ecosystem as a whole to experience severe repercussions. A busy road passing through the world’s largest area of mammal density will irrefutably need to be fenced in the mid term. This will block the migration from the water resources up north that are vital for their survival in the dry season. Ultimately, this will lead to the collapse of the migration and the population of large ungulates. Given the important role of the wildebeest migration for a number of key ecological processes, this will have potentially adverse ramifications for biodiversity, structure, and function of the Serengeti.
With that new and fully commercial road through Serengeti National Park Tanzania carelessly jeopardizes the integrity of a World Heritage Site.
The need to connect Loliondo and the Serengeti District to the national grid of major roads is undisputed but can be solved without dissecting the Serengeti. Alternative routes could easily meet the economic needs and even improve the Conservation Status of Serengeti National Park. An alternative road alignment passing the National Park in the south would not only be shorter, easier to build and cheaper but would also provide access for more agricultural markets as the southern road passes through important agricultural areas in Tanzania. The Southern alternative road will also eliminate the demand for any commercial traffic to pass through Serengeti and a complete ban for traffic through the Park could easily be instated. This will reduce commercial traffic not only to 54 km – but to zero. The Southern road was already analysed positively in the report from Roughton International for the Tanzanian Government in 2001.
In the light of these obvious advantages, the question arises why this clearly better alternative alignment has never been mentioned, is not part of current internal governmental discussions, nor was evaluated in the recent impact studies.
Press Release Directorate of Presidential Communications; United Republic of Tanzania (28 Jan 2011)
Predicted Impact of Barriers to Migration on the Serengeti Wildebeest Population
Holdo RM, Fryxell JM, Sinclair ARE, Dobson A, Holt RD (2011)
PLoS ONE 6(1): e16370. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016370