Tanzania: Struggle to Save the Serengeti Builds
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.
During that same time, the World Bank said it was ready to help finance an alternate route, provided that the Tanzanian government made such a request.
In April this year, the German government followed through. It granted 23.5 million euros for communities around the Serengeti. And again, it offered to participate jointly with other donors in the development of a southern route. Read more
The big roadblock - the Tanzanian government has never accepted the World Bank offer to fund a southern route. It has never publicly accepted the southern route concept as an alternative to the Serengeti highway. It has never made any statements on the German development funds. And nothing has appeared in the Tanzanian press about funding for local communities.
Recently, the East African Community (the regional association of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi) proposed and passed a widely praised Trans-boundary Ecosystem Bill, which would ensure that one country could not unilaterally make decisions affecting the ecosystem of another without a rigorous study and process. The bill required approval by all country presidents, but Tanzania's president is refusing to sign.
All of this raises new fears and old suspicions, especially since the upgrading of roads is already happening around the Serengeti National Park.
Without a southern route, there will be enormous pressures to someday connect the dots and complete the original Serengeti highway plan.
Finally, there is the question of the existing "road" through the northern Serengeti. Last year, the government told the World Heritage Committee that the current road across the park will "remain gravel." The problem is, there is no gravel road. What exists is a seasonal dirt track. It was even described in a government study in 2010 as "the existing road is earth track which becomes impassable during rainy season..." So the door is still open for upgrading this dirt track to a road.
Report from the field: Road Construction Underway
By all accounts, road construction to the east of the Serengeti National Park, in the Loliondo area, has been moving ahead faster than expected. It extends to Lake Natron, where it would serve a proposed soda ash mine. How much construction, how far it will go, and for what purpose this is being done - all are questions that have not been answered.
The Loliondo is an important part of the migration route. A tarmac road through it would pose a grave risk to the future of this area, opening it up to land speculation and outside development. Local Maasai communities already face serious threats to their land and most do not have good information on how a highway would impact their land use and way of life.
We know of no environmental or social impact study on road development for the Loliondo. A Strategic Environmental Assessment combined with a Land Use Plan is vital.
Upcoming World Heritage Committee Meeting
At its upcoming meeting, the World Heritage Committee should not only ask for confirmation that the Serengeti highway has been abandoned but also:
(a) that there are no plans for upgrading the existing dirt track to gravel, or doing any other upgrades.
(b) that there is currently no commercial traffic illegally passing through the Serengeti. (There are reliable reports that this is happening.)
(c) that the Tanzanian government provide independent environmental and social impact studies that justify the need for any tarmac roads through any migration routes. Such studies should be done publicly in consultation will all stakeholders, particularly local communities.
(d) that the government confirm its support of a southern route around the park and work with donors to go forward.
Note: The 36th session of the World Heritage Committee is June 24, 2012 - July 6, 2012. Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation.