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Serengeti highway

Wildebeest

Image: David Badger

The Serengeti National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most recognisable national parks in the world. It supports possibly the greatest migration in the natural world of antelopes and 1.8 million wildebeest.

The government of Tanzania is planning a major commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park, linking Lake Victoria with eastern Tanzania. The government, via its agency TANROADS, proposes to construct a 171.5km road that will directly traverse the wildebeest migration route. It is part of a bigger plan to connect the proposed new port at Tanga to Musoma on Lake Victoria via Arusha and Lake Natron's shores.

The road will be funded by the Tanzanian government and the section from Serengeti to Musoma is estimated to cost £144 million. The government contracted two companies - one Indian and the other based in Tanzania - to jointly undertake an Environment and Social Impact Assessment.

The World Bank was approached 20 years ago to fund the road and shelved the project after the environmental impacts were appraised.

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The Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Important Bird Area, supports one of the greatest migrations in the world involving 1.8 million wildebeest and other antelopes. The area is home to over 450 bird species including three Tanzanian endemics and two globally threatened species, the grey-crested helmet shrike and karamoja apalis. The Serengeti is thought to hold up to a third of the remaining populations of Ruppell's vulture, a species that has seen recent massive declines in West Africa.

The road will negatively affect biodiversity through increased road kills of large mammals and attendant scavengers, including vultures, which are facing extreme pressure outside protected areas. Furthermore, the proposed road will pass close to Lake Natron and could adversely affect the breeding of lesser flamingos. Lake Natron is their most important breeding site in East Africa.

The end of an epic migration?

The project will critically affect the mammals that inhabit the park and could potentially disrupt the renowned wildebeest migration between Serengeti and Maasai Mara in Kenya.

Recent calculations from the Frankfurt Zoological Society show that if wildebeest were cut off from vital dry season areas, it is likely the population would decline by a third. This would mean a collapse to far less than a quarter of its current population and most likely the end of the great migration.

If the proposed project is undertaken the entire Serengeti will change into a completely different landscape, holding only a fraction of its species. It will lose its world-class tourism potential and its status as the world's most famous national park - an immense backlash against the goodwill and conservation achievements of Tanzania.


 

June 2010

The Tanzanian Government reinstate their plans to build a highway across the Serengeti National Park past the shores of Lake Natron. The road, which would link Tanzania with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, was discussed with the World Bank 20 years ago but was rejected due to environmental reasons. "There is no alternative to the Serengeti National Park, but there are many alternative areas for building an effective road system" said Lota Melamari, then CEO of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania.

July 2010

Launch of RSPB letter writing campaign

July-August 2010

The World Heritage Convention discusses the case at its 34th Committee meeting in Brazil and expresses serious concerns. The Committee adopts a decision urging Tanzania to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment to the World Heritage Convention before a decision to implement the project is taken

September 2010

An Environmental Impact Assessment of the highway is underway and if approved, the project could commence in 2012

October 2010

The Government of Tanzania continue to support the proposed road across the Serengeti. Our letter writing campaign is having an impact as the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism has been inundated with letters from individuals and organisations. She has noted all comments and agreed that the Environmental Impact Assessment will be shared with the World Heritage Convention before a final decision is made. WCST is convening a national meeting with other environmental NGOs to discuss setting up a joint national campaign.

October 2010

A survey of travel industry professionals around the world finds that a commercial route through the Serengeti National Park will have a disastrous impact on Tanzania’s tourist industry. Some believe the impact has already begun. The government of Tanzania is also sent a petition "Travel Industry Against The Serengeti Highway".

November 2010

The European Commission expresses deep concern about the proposed Serengeti road in a response to MEP questions. It states 'The Commission, as Chair of the Infrastructure Partner group in Tanzania, has led the way in raising this issue in numerous policy dialogue meetings with the Government of Tanzania. It has repeatedly sought clarification from the Government as to its precise intentions. In spite of these representations and numerous written reminders, no clear information has been provided'.

December 2010

A joint World Heritage Centre-IUCN monitoring mission is organised to the Serengeti to look at the implications of the road and other conservation issues. While in Tanzania the members of the mission meet WCST.

December 2010

An African conservation group, Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) files a case at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) seeking to stop Tanzania from constructing the Serengeti highway.

January 2011

While attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, President Kiwete reiterates his Government's commitment to the Serengeti road saying its necessary to ease transport problems for local communities around the Park. But he states that the 54km section of road through the national Park will be unpaved not tarmac.

February 2011

A leaked draft of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) is published on the Save the Serengeti website. This concludes that the road will have a serious impact on the 'uniqueness' of the Serengeti.

March 2011

The World Bank offers to assist in financing the southern route as an alternate to the planned road through the Serengeti. Germany offers to finance the cost of the associated feasibility study.

June 2011

The Serengeti case is discussed at the World Heritage Convention Committee meeting held in Paris. The Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism addresses the meeting saying that in response to stakeholder concerns the road across the Serengeti will be gravel. We then have the opportunity to present a joint NGO statement to the meeting. Under pressure, the Tanzanian government provides a written statement to the World Heritage Centre explaining that an approximately 122 km stretch of the road through and near the Park will be gravel not tarmac, the road will be controlled by the National Park Authority and will be for the same level of traffic as currently ie mostly tourists, not commercial traffic. Also that they will seriously consider the southern alternative road (which avoids the park). While we are pleased this is a step in the right direction, it does not yet ensure that the Serengeti will be safe and we will continue to follow the case.

June 2012

After the Tanzanian statement at last year's World Heritage Convention (WHC) meeting we were cautiously optimistic. But alarm bells are now ringing again. The Tanzanian authorities have been progressing the plans for the eastern stretch of the Serengeti road (outside and to the east of the Park) and we understand that some commercial traffic is already passing through the Park. There has been no progress on studying an alternative southern route, despite offers of funding from the World Bank and German and US Governments. We fear this piece-meal development of the eastern stretch of the road in advance of any studies of alternatives will further increase pressure for the section of the road through the Serengeti to be upgraded. In these worrying times we are asking the WHC, which is about to meet in St Petersburg, Russia, to adopt a strong decision.

26 April 2013

The Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) court case against Tanzania in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) is adjourned for procedural reasons. The court orders the Attorney General of Tanzania to file its documents within 14 days.

May 2013

We are concerned to read reports that the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) are working in partnership with TANWRI to look at the northern road route and plan to publish an article supporting this.

June 2013

Brief on the case prepared in advance of the 2013 World Heritage Committee meeting in Cambodia and shared with more than 15 BirdLife International partners asking them to contact their national WHC representatives before the meeting.

July 2013

BirdLife International sends letter of concern about the Serengeti to UNESCO.

October 2013

Conservation Biology publish article written by Tanzanian's (TANWRI) and Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) scientist expressing support for the northern road route through the Serengeti.

February 2014

The Tanzanian Government defends the choice of the northern route in the ongoing case at the East African Court of Justice brought by the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW).