(eTN) – Information was received last week from participants of the UNESCO World Heritage Status meeting in Brazil, that the world body has made it clear that they were seriously concerned over plans by the Tanzania government to construct a highway across the migration routes. It appears that UNESCO officials have notified the Tanzanian government that they would be compelled to add endangered to the Serengeti status, should the plans not be revised and the alternative more southerly route taken into active consideration.
Conservation groups, NGOs, individuals, globally-renowned conservationists from all corners of the world have written to the Tanzanian government against the planned routing, which as it stands cuts right across the age old migration routes of the great migration and may lead to a massive loss of animals should the construction go ahead. Some 20,000 Facebook sympathizers have signed up to a dedicated site and signed various petitions against the plans.
Politically inspired and incited hot heads in Tanzania have subsequently vented their anger and uttered thinly-concealed racist sentiments against their neighbors Kenya and “muzungus,” alleging that conservationists were attempting to deny Tanzanians a much-needed road, while the facts speak against such false notions since the alternative road routing along the southern edge of the Serengeti ecosystem asked for is by general consent not only shorter and cheaper to build but also reaches about two million more rural Tanzanians, yet ends in the same target area as the routing through the most critical part of the Serengeti.
UNESCO also let it be known that should construction of the highway indeed reach the park area, that the wording “endangered world heritage status” would be removed with the original status altogether, stripping the Serengeti and Tanzania tourism of one of the most sought-after attributes given to an attraction and more than likely keeping visitors away, as the “anti this road routing” alliance would then likely start to actively discourage visitors from coming to Tanzania lest the plans would be changed at the last moment.
In an interesting development, a very senior source from Dar es Salaam has also given the first faint indication that the routing could be revisited but only after the upcoming elections, explaining that the government in Dar was “disconcerted and surprised by the strength of the sentiments expressed to them and by the many eminent persons who have opposed the road routing.” However, this remains to be seen, and not only has the source demanded total anonymity, but no other such source has since been secured offering a similar read of what is presently going on in Dar es Salaam over the highway plans.
Key global conservation groups oppose highway routing
Information emerged last week that three key global bodies concerned over the presently proposed routing of the so called Serengeti Highway have written to President Kikwete asking him to review his decision and support the southern route, not only to serve millions more people compared to the current plans but to save the Serengeti’s fragile ecosystem and allow the annual migration of wildebeest and zebras to actually survive and be preserved for future generations.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or in short IUCN, the head of UNESCO – which grants the hugely important “world heritage” status – and the World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF, have all written directly to the president urging him to reconsider his stand on the highway routing, while such bodies as the Frankfurt Zoologial Society and other globally-renowned zoological societies, civil societies, the tourism sector, and diplomats accredited to Tanzania have also in various measures of candidness spoken out against the planned route.
Thankfully, the alternative has been presented to Tanzania in regard of reaching the target areas through a more southerly routing, in fact, opening access to more than 2 million more people to the rest of the country for travel and trade, but no final decision has been made yet as consultants’ reports are still awaiting the anticipated environmental and biodiversity impact of having a road cut across the age old migration routes of the wildebeest and zebras.
Tourism is expected to suffer substantially should this routing go ahead, and a global campaign against the “killer of the Serengeti” would undoubtedly unfold, which could try to discourage visitors from coming to Tanzania and opting for other, more environmentally-friendly safari destinations in the region. With tourism being one of the top foreign exchange earners and job providers – said to be in the region of over 200,000 directly employed personnel in the sector – in Tanzania, this could have potentially disastrous consequences for the country’s economic development and leave it once again trailing in the wake of the neighbors, all of whom are eyeing the highway plans with differing degrees of suspicion and apprehension.