World Bank to help save Serengeti

Ray Maota

The migration of wildebeest and other
antelope in the Serengeti will be
disturbed by the construction of
the road.
(Image: National Geographic)

President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete,
said they will construct the road but
preserve their Serengeti.
(Image: Wikimedia)

• Ikechi Okorie
World Bank
(202) 458-2195
• Dagmar Andres-Brümmer
Frankfurt Zoological Society
+49 69 9434 46 11

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The government of Tanzania’s contentious road project, which would slice through the famous Serengeti National Park, has prompted the World Bank to get involved.

The organisation would act in its capacity of providing financial and technical support to developing countries.

The planned road has caused uproar among conservationists who believe it would damage the natural habitat of animals in the Serengeti and make poaching easier.

The road would also disrupt the migration path of millions of animals, including wildebeest and elephants, which move through the area each year to follow the rains and find better grazing.

Travel industry experts and environmentalists argue that there is no need for Tanzania to sacrifice its wilderness, heritage and income from tourism by developing such a road.

They say that an alternative route, which would bypass the Serengeti altogether and connect with paved highways to western, central, and eastern regions of the country, is possible.

The World Bank has now offered to help finance the construction of this alternative route after funding for the first planned route was withdrawn due to concerns over its the environmental impact.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society said in a statement: “We sincerely believe that the road will have disastrous effects on the entire ecosystem. The northern parts of the Serengeti and the adjacent Maasai Mara are critical for the wildebeest and zebra migration during the dry season, as it is the only permanent year-round water source for these herds.”

Dr Barbara Maas, from the German-based NGO Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, added: “The regular pulse of the migration is the very heartbeat that keeps the Serengeti alive – without it, it will die.

“The World Bank’s initiative throws a lifeline to this unique wilderness and the animals and people who depend on it.”

There have been contradictory statements from Tanzania’s government, but the World Bank has thrown its weight behind conservationist’s demands that the original planned route be scrapped. The organisation will finance a road on the southern side of the Serengeti, which will safeguard the park’s ecosystem.

Tanzanian president clarifies road-construction issues

President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete recently met with the MD of the World Bank Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala in Davos, Switzerland, when both attended the World Economic Forum on 28 January 2011.

“Contrary to what some people are saying and rumours being circulated everywhere, my government never decided to build a tarmac road through the Serengeti,” he said.

The president added that the dirt road which currently runs through the Serengeti was 220km. The idea was to reduce the length of that to 54km, by planning a road to run through the northern tip of the park.

“Currently, 220km of road passes through the Serengeti National Park – right in the middle of the park. We are unhappy with this situation and want to reduce the length of road going through the Serengeti to only 54km, passing mainly through the northern tip of the park,” said Kikwete.

He added that there were three objectives for the planned 54km highway:

“The first is to reduce the flow of traffic passing through the park, the second is to reduce the length of the road running through the Serengeti and the third is to empower those poor communities living just outside the Serengeti by giving them access to a reliable road through their area,” said Kikwete.

The president has also assured the public that there are no plans to destroy sections of the Serengeti. If one looks at Tanzania’s record, it shows the country is a leader in protecting ecosystems, with about 20% of land under conservation since independence in 1961, he said.

“We have a responsibility to our people. They need a road and we will deliver it to them while fully preserving our beloved Serengeti National Park,” said Kikwete.

Study on the proposed road

A study by the University of Guelph’s Prof John Fryxell, Ricardo Holdo from the University of Missouri and other professors from the University of British Columbia, Princeton University and the University of Florida, has found that the government’s planned highway would be detrimental to the environment.

“This project has the potential to transform one of the greatest wonders in the world and one of the world’s most iconic national parks,” said Fryxell.

The researchers found that the construction of the road would cause a 35% reduction in wildebeest herds, while also having effects on other species and the ecosystem as a whole.

“The wildebeest migration plays an important role in a number of key ecological processes, so this finding has important ramifications for ecosystem biodiversity, structure and function,” added Fryxell.