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Migrating wildebeest

Migrating wildebeest help to maintain the Serengeti as a major carbon storage (© Boyd Norton)

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Tanzania urged to accept World Bank funding of alternative Serengeti highway route

William McLennan

3rd March, 2011

World Bank offers to help fund the cost of road if it avoids bitterly opposed route through the Serengeti National Park

A controversial road through the Serengeti, one of the world’s most famous migratory routes, may be re-routed with funding from the World Bank.

Tanzania’s plans for a 480-kilometre road to link up the east of the country with Lake Victoria were to be routed through the Serengeti National Park for around 50 kilometres. The government said it would bring ‘essential economic development’ to the region and allow the transport of newly discovered Ugandan oil to Tanzanian ports in the East.

However, environmental groups and scientists claim the Serengeti route would intersect the path of the renowed ‘great migration’ where millions of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra migrate annually from the Tanzanian Serengeti to the Kenyan Masai Mara, in search of water. 

Wildebeest populations may decline from 1.3 million to 200,000 if the road prevents them from accessing this water, the Frankfurt Zoological Society told the Ecologist.

An alternative ‘southern route’, which avoids the Serengeti National Park completely, has been proposed by opponents and looks closer to being accepted after intervention by the World Bank this week. The Bank says it is in talks with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to discuss funding the alternative route. 



In a statement released yesterday the World Bank said it was ‘willing to support Tanzania in selecting and, where appropriate, financing the most beneficial alternative to the Northern Serengeti Road to meet the development needs of northern Tanzania, while preserving the unique character of the Serengeti.’

Professor Andrew Dobson, of Princeton University, who has worked in the Serengeti for more than 20 years and was one of 27 scientists to sign an appeal against the proposed road in the leading journal Nature, welcomed the Bank’s intervention.

‘The development of these more ethical alternative routes will allow the Serengeti migration to proceed as it has done for hundreds of thousands of years, preserving one of the world's greatest natural wonders and also one of Africa's major carbon sinks’ he told the Ecologist.

As yet there has been no formal response from President Kikwete or his administration and the Tanzanian High Commission knew nothing of this news when contacted yesterday. The President has previously been adamant the highway through the national park should go ahead.

Map of proposed highway routes

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