The proposed Serengeti Highway has been a concern for many people, including members of the tourist industry, for some time now. As markers for the route are being laid down, the story is getting increased interest from the international press.
The road is currently proposed to run from Arusha to Musoma, cutting directly through the Serengeti National Park. It is thought that the Tanzanian government is funding this project through investments from the private industrial and mining sectors.
It is argued that the road is essential for the economic development of the region, with environmental damage being kept to a minimum by having unpaved sections of road and that alternative routes would be too costly. However, critics state that the road will upset the Serengeti’s famous great migration and will be hugely detrimental to the environment. This would also have a very negative impact on the region’s tourist industry and economy.
Despite offers from the World Bank and German government to fund research into alternative routes, it is argued that these have not been properly investigated. In addition to this, the EIA for the project was not completed until after the decision to build the road had been passed.
For those people, who haven’t been following the developments and/or getting rather confused, the below text compiled by Tourism Concern gives an overview of the current situation.
Background to the proposed Serengeti Highway
- Road proposed to run through the Serengeti, from Arusha to Musoma.
- Strongly opposed by many groups, including environmentalists, scientists, tourists and tour operators – including TATO and several members of Ethical Tour Operator Group of Tourism Concern of which BAOBAB Travel is a member.
- Suggestion that the project is to be funded by the Tanzanian government and members of mining and industrial groups, particularly since the withdrawal of support from the Indian government and the World Bank. This coincides with the proposal for a soda ash extraction plant on Lake Natron, and newly discovered oil fields in Uganda.
- Investigating the possibility of alternative routes to the south of the park or through Kenya has been suggested. Both the German government and the World Bank have offered to finance the research and development of this.
- EIA conducted by the Tanzanian Ministry of Infrastructure Development and Tanzanian National Roads Agency. Draft submitted October 2010 after the decision to build the road had been passed.
- Despite widespread opposition the current proposal is still going ahead, with markers already being laid down. It is expected that the road will carry 800 vehicles (mostly trucks) per day by 2015, and 3000 vehicles per day (one every 30 seconds) by 2035.
Reasons for the Road – The stance of Tanzanian Government
- Will help the population of north western Tanzania to become more connected to the rest of the country.
- Was a 2005 election pledge the government is determined to keep.
- Environmental damage kept to a minimum by leaving 40 km stretch unpaved through the park.
- Will provide the spur for essential economic development in the region. The road will be a key to providing transport links to a proposed soda ash extraction plant on the shores of Lake Natron.
- Alternative routes and the option of building a raised highway considered too expensive.
- Opposition to the road labelled as unpatriotic.
Reasons for Opposition
- No EIA conducted until after plans were passed.
- Huge disruption and damage to wildlife:
- Through disruption to natural migration routes; of wildebeest and elephants in particular.
- Through disturbances to the sensitive habitat of rhino.
- Through human interference and easy access for poachers.
- Through the introduction and spread of diseases and invasive weeds.
- Loss of habitat through disruption to grazing patterns would mean losing an important carbon sink.
- Loss of revenue through tourism:
- Likely to lose UNESCO World Heritage Status
- Loss of income and employment through less tourists – park entry, employment for park staff, income for local people, taxation revenue. This will lead to a general negative impact on the Tanzanian economy.
- Loss of foreign aid due to environmentally insensitive practice.
- International mining and industry companies helping fund the road have little interest in the well-being of local people.
- Will this pave the way for the loss of further World Heritage Sites?
Information from Tourism Concern – April 2011
Update posted by Louise de Waal on the 17th June 2011
Stop the Serengeti Highway action group has just announced that “the government of the United Republic of Tanzania is seriously considering alternative routes to by-pass Mikumi National Parks after a reportedly higher number of vehicle/wildlife accidents than expected – even with road bumps to reduce speed, warning signs etc. The highway is expected to be re-routed to go around Mikumi and an EIA survey is reportedly underway or accomplished already.”
What is Tanzania’s hidden agenda for the Serengeti Highway? If roadkill and human injuries, and even fatalities, have already reached such proportions in such a small park with relatively low animal densities to warrant rerouting the Mikumu road, how can they still talk about a road THROUGH the Serengeti with much higher animal densities and a 2 million strong mass wildlife migration????
Update posted by Louise de Waal on the 20th June 2011
A very comprehensive review of the impacts the Serengeti Highway will have on the Serengeti Ecosystem, Tanzania’s Tourist Industry and its wider economy:
Serengeti Shall not Die by Kara Dicks, Departments of Biology; Environment, University of York
Update posted by Louise de Waal on the 24th June 2011
Fantastic news! In a letter to the UN World Heritage Centre, the government of Tanzania has declared its intentions NOT to construct a commercial route across the Serengeti National Park.
The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved on the same date a project to improve the efficiency and reliability of transport services in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda at a value of US$30 million. This coincided with a second approved World Bank project for additional International Development Association credit of $80 million to support Tanzania’s Energy Development and Access Expansion Project… Coincidence or what??
However, we cannot be complacent, as the highway through the Serengeti has been proposed three times now and can be raised again. All the underlying pressures that threaten the Serengeti, including population pressures, powerful geopolitical interests, poverty and a commercial corridor to Uganda, unfortunately still exist.
Sources & Further Information
The Observer, 27th March 2011
eTurbo News, 1st April 2011
The Ecologist, 13th August 2010
Intrepid letter to Tanzanian Ministry of Tourism – 24th March 2011
TATO Press release – March 2011
Tanzanian Government’s EIA executive summary