Tanzania waters down controversial Serengeti road plan

source : guardian.co.uk
Friday 1 July 2011

Controversial plans by the Tanzanian government to build a road through the famous Serengeti national park have been watered down following pressure from environmentalists and the UN world heritage body Unesco.

Tanzania has adjusted its plans and the road through the park will now be unpaved, with game rangers controlling traffic with gates in a bid to avoid disturbing the annual migration of wildebeest.

The park supports a vast array of wildlife and is the setting for one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles, the annual migration of up to 2 million wildebeest, zebra and other mammals. Conservationists say the road would impede the migration and lead to a big drop in the populations of grazing animals.

“The Serengeti road project has not been abandoned … we have just revised it,” natural resources and tourism minister, Ezekiel Maige, told Reuters.

Unesco said this week that Tanzania would reconsider the planned road which aims to ease transport problems facing poor communities surrounding the park but has been criticised by conservation bodies.

The initial plan to build an asphalt road has now been dropped.

“The project is still there without a shadow of a doubt. But the road will be unpaved, so there will be no tarmac road or highway traversing through the Serengeti national park,” said Maige.

Maige said rangers from the state-run Tanzania National Parks Authority (Tanapa) would set up checkpoints and control the flow of traffic through a 53km section of the road cutting across the wilderness area.

“The road will be closely supervised. Tanapa will put up gates and carry out regular patrols to ensure no harm comes to the wildlife population as a result of vehicles that will be allowed to pass through the road,” he said.

“The road passing through the Serengeti will remain under the ownership and control of Tanapa. The ownership of the road will not be transferred to the government’s highway roads agency.”

Roads outside the national park will be paved, but roads leading to the park and those inside the wildlife sanctuary will not be.

Unesco has urged the international community to provide support to Tanzania, which relies heavily on tourism, for an alternative route, running south of Serengeti national park and the Ngorongoro conservation area.

The World Bank said in March it had offered Tanzania an alternative to stop the Serengeti road project.