Recently as we know, the government of Tanzania has approved a major commercial highway across Serengeti National Park in the direct path of the park's world-famous wildlife migration routes.
Despite pressure from global NGOs, Wildlife conservation bodies, development partners and donors it seems the government has remained stubborn and keep on defending the undefendable and is keen to go ahead with this controversial project.
There is no doubt that infrastructure is needed to help connect farmers to markets, to link communities and encourage commerce and trade in the country. Looking only at the map, the proposed road through northern Serengeti seems to make sense, as it is the shortest line between existing population centers surrounding Serengeti. But we sincerely believe that the road will have disastrous effects on the entire ecosystem. The northern parts of the Serengeti and the adjacent Masai 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.
Roads are known to be catastrophic for wildlife. The experiment has been done again and again all over the world: we know among the problems: roads allow the easy spread of invasive plant species, as car tires often carry their seeds. Roads also allow the rapid spread of animal diseases, and lead to an increase in poaching, building and other human activities.
There is an alternative that could better fulfil the development and economic goals for this area. This alternative is to bypass the Serengeti around the south by building a tarmac connection from Karatu to join the existing Shinyanga - Musoma Road. This alternative road system has been surveyed by the government already and would serve five times as many people as the planned Northern road and fulfil the same needs for linking major regional centres and will also cost less to build.
It would also be easier, since the landscape there is flatter; and it would not affect the animal migrations. The northern road has been vigorously rejected on environmental grounds before. More importantly, this second option would simultaneously preserve the iconic beauty of the Serengeti National Park. We are hopeful that a solution such as this can be found to satisfy all parties.
With a large percentage of its land area protected, Tanzania is one of the world leaders in biodiversity conservation. Future generations will not ask what the technological advances of our time were but who saved the majestic wild places that make our planet so special. Serengeti, a World Heritage Site, the epitome for wilderness, and biodiversity, an ecological and economical success should not be scarified for short-term infrastructure projects when reasonable alternatives exist.
Tanzania is well known in the world for its protection of priceless natural areas. This long legacy of protection has served Tanzania well. It is an intangible asset of the country that is difficult to measure. A commercial highway through the Serengeti affects both the world perception of Tanzania and also a set of values and a conservation ethic held by the people and government.
Let's all hope that the government will act wisely and pray that the highway never comes to be! The Serengeti is one of the most magnificent landforms on earth! We should all mobilize as many resources as possible to prevent this from happening.
By Thabit Jacob