The proposed construction of a controversial 53-kilometer tarmac road through Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park may be delayed by government orders for a new environmental impact assessment.
The proposed stretch of road—designed to link eastern and western Tanzania—would cross migration routes of some two million wildebeests, attracting worldwide criticism as local and international conservation groups are pressuring the Tanzanian government to re-route the project.
Pushing a road through the park, they argue, would expose wildlife to speeding vehicles and attract commercial development along the road.
“Commercial roads in wildlife areas have proved a disaster all over the world, and UNESCO is very strongly recommending that no through-roads should lead through a National Park/World Heritage Site,” said a statement by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which is leading the campaign against the project.
Melania Sangeua, senior engineer at the Dept. of Safety and Environment in Tanzania’s Ministry of Infrastructure Development, says the project will remain on hold until the environmental impact assessment (EIA) is submitted.
A consultant has been appointed by the government to conduct the EIA, which will be the second such assessment ordered by the government for this project. The first study by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism raised no objections to the two-lane road project planned by Tanzania National Roads Agency.
The road would be part of a 480-km, government-funded tarmac road project linking the Lake Victoria town of Musoma to the city of Arusha at an estimated cost of $480 million.
Tourism stakeholders in Kenya are concerned about the possible negative impact the project could have on the industry.
“We are very concerned about this road and are waiting for details while hoping authorities have thoroughly investigated all possible alternatives,” says Jake Grieves-Cook, the head of the Kenya Tourist Board.
The wildlife and nature conservationists are proposing to upgrade an alternative longer southern route that goes around the Serengeti. They argue the rival route is economically sound because it would support a larger population than the one currently being proposed.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete recently said the stretch through Serengeti would not be tarmacked but graveled to reduce traffic speed, an apparent response to the conservationists’ objections.
“Those criticizing the road construction know nothing about what we have planned,” says Shamsa Mwangunga, minister for natural resources and tourism. “We are keen to preserve our natural resources, and we will never compromise on that.”
Although the government early last year invited bids for the designing of sections of the road, a contractor has not yet been chosen for the project, which initially was slated for completion in the first quarter of 2012.