|March 4, 2011
Donors to snub government over Serengeti road
A leading US environmental expert has warned that Tanzania's resolve to build the northern road through the Serengeti National Park (Senapa) could deny the country substantial foreign aid. The warning comes against the backdrop of plans by the government to construct a road through Senapa which conservationists say could spell doom to wildlife conservation efforts in Tanzania.
In a letter to President Jakaya Kikwete dated March 1, 2011, the expert with vast experience of the Serengeti, John S. Adams, said the World Bank had officially made an offer to help finance the alternate southern route in order to help preserve Senapa, the world heritage site from losing its outstanding universal value. The World Bank country representative for Tanzania, John Murray McIntire, confirmed the offer saying the bank was ready to help Tanzania in financing an alternative route for the road that would otherwise cut through the park. Adams warned that failure to heed the offer, Tanzania could lose substantial foreign aid the country is soliciting for the construction of other environmentally unfriendly projects such as a soda extraction plant at Lake Natron in Arusha region and construction of a deep sea port at Mwambani Bay in Tanga region. Two and a half million Lesser Flamingos may lose their breeding grounds at Lake Natron if plans go ahead to build the soda extraction facility on the lake shore, resulting in habitat loss and degradation and associated pollution.
Plans by the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) to develop a multi-billion dollar deep water port at Mwambani Bay are raising more human and environmental question marks than answers. On the human face of the controversial project, it is posing a threat to the livelihoods of more than 5.000 poor locals and fishermen in the Mwambani Bay area. On the environmental side, the envisaged huge port project will pose a threat to the survival of the Coelacanth, the world's oldest and most enigmatic fish. Mwambani is a habitat for colonies of the species.
"Foreign aid relies on goodwill and is less likely if Tanzania is damaging its secure revenue base in tourism," Prof Adams warned in his letter to Mr Kikwete, adding: "The proposed road through the Serengeti would deny millions of animals the right to migrate to water and at the same time the Tanzanian government is asking for aid due to water shortage."
Mr Kikwete said recently that plans to construct the $480 million (Sh372 billion) Arusha-Musoma road through northern Serengeti were still on course despite emerging opposition from environmental lobbyists and conservationists. In his letter Adam emphasised that many parts of Tanzania now went without electricity for five days a week due to low water levels at hydro dams and gas production problems at Songosongo. At least 36 districts in 13 regions were facing food shortages due low rainfall and poor crops: "This has caused increased government expenditure and a large increase in the request for foreign aid." He added that the planned northern Serengeti route would see traffic of 800 vehicles per day, mostly trucks by 2015, and 3.000 vehicles a day (an average of one vehicle 30 seconds) by 2035. "If this road is built as planned, scientists state that within a few decades the wildlife migration of the past five million years would be destroyed."
The letter suggested that the southern Serengeti route would lead to jobs and more opportunities for Tanzanians, as it would serve a population of over two million instead of less than 500.000 with a road to the north. "You have the opportunity to win the respect of many people in Tanzania and across the world," the letter to the President said. It adds that the Serengeti was not just a national treasure; it was the most revered wildlife reserve in the world. "This is part of the trust placed in your hands as the leader of your country. The heritage of the children and the grandchildren of Tanzania is in your hands and the world is watching," said the letter seen by the newspaper The Citizen.
The proposed construction previously set to begin this year has also elicited sharp reactions from other environmental watchdogs, which say it would spoil the fragile ecosystem of the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara.