Tanzania: Projects With Negative Environmental Consequences


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Aug 21, 2009
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Tanzania: Projects With Negative Environmental Consequences
by Rolf D Baldus

Tanzania remains in the global headlines with a number of major projects which have the potential to cause significant negative environmental consequences. The plans as they are known today threaten, if realized, National Parks and Game Reserves which fall under the specially protected UNESCO World Heritage Site Program.

The construction of a major highway through the Serengeti to link Central African regions with the East African coast is one of the most worrying projects. To complete this road project, Tanzania also proposed a new deep water port to be dredged at Tanga, a small and sleepy Tanzanian port on the Indian Ocean. The planned facility is located right within a marine protected area, which has been specially designed to give shelter to Coelacanths, a group of lobed-finned fish that are related to lungfish and other extinct Devonian fish, thought to have first evolved approximately 400 million years ago. Only two living coelacanth species are found along theses coastlines.

Based on assessments of the Frankfurt Zoological Society and from a wide array of world-renowned scientists, the Trans-Serengeti highway would seriously compromise the annual migrations of over one million savanna ungulates; the impact on ungulate species would also have negative consequences for all predators, for which the ungulates are the main prey. Over half a century after Bernhard Grzimek’s book “Serengeti Shall Not Die” this world-famous area would finally meet an appalling destiny. The entire eco system will change completely and irrevocably. The environmental impact assessment submitted by the Tanzanian government was rejected by the European Commission on behalf of the donors as superficial and unprofessional.. The US Department of State expressed also major concerns, although a top diplomat would not reveal if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned this topic at her meeting with the President of Tanzania.

Apparently, there are no technical or infrastructural problems, if a more southerly route, bypassing the Serengeti National Park. would be chosen. A greater number of people would benefit from a southerly transit artery; it is, however, a socio-economic give and take, since some of those along the presently planned route would be rather disappointed. It is probably also true that Tanzanians who live in the greater Serengeti area don’t even know that an alternative route is being proposed to connect the Central African regions to the East African coast. For reasons that the world fails to understand, and without any explanation or reasonable substantiations, the recently re-elected President of the Republic of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete has apparently already decided to move ahead with the highway crossing the Serengeti.

Dirk Niebel, Minister for Development of the Federal Republic of Germany, who offered on occasion of a visit of a senior civil servant of the ministry to Tanzania that Germany and other donor nations would finance all impact and viability studies of a more southerly route around the Serengeti could not convince President Kikwete. Apparently there were even discussions about a financing offer for the construction of the alternative route. A public announcement by Minister Niebel made later at a press conference did not draw any Tanzanian reaction either. In any case, Tanzania, which is deep in debt and in fact hanging on the various drips of development assistance of donor nations, cannot finance the highway from own means anyhow. Hence, there is ample speculation whether China is pulling any strings behind the scenes. In Africa, there are presently few, if any, minerals and raw materials prospecting ventures, or any major infrastructure projects, where China is not involved in one or the other way. Apparently – also taking other examples into account – environmental concerns are very low on the priority list of this emerging super power from the Far East. Anyway – most of Tanzania’s threatened hardwoods and also a major part of illegally exported elephant ivory are incessantly gobbled up by China.

Environmentalists and conservation NGOs have organized global protests. These actions obviously and unfortunately appear to have had an unintended side effect: President Kikwete seems to be fed up by these activities and apparently views them as uncalled interventions into each and every infrastructure project. On March 28th, President Kikwete reportedly stormed into the Tourism and Environment Ministry’s offices and apparently enraged, announced that Tanzania would not be dictated from abroad with respect to the country’s environmental policies. This was ostensibly also the cause for the immediate withdrawal of Tanzania’s application for recognition of the "Eastern Arc" as a World Heritage Site. The “Eastern Arc” is a particularly species-rich mountain range in south-eastern Tanzania. However, UNESCO is by no means trying to dictate anything to Tanzania. To the contrary, for the past 15 years the Government of Tanzania has been trying to achieve inclusion into the UNESCO list and even commissioned a number of research studies to this end.

Is President Kikwete forgetting what the founder of the nation, Julius Nyerere, said to the world and to the Tanzanian citizens in the 1961 Arusha Declaration on Wildlife Protection? Here is a quote from Nyerere’s speech ““The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and of our future livelihood and well-being.”

The President’s executive order to suspend all further studies on environmental impacts of soda ash production at Lake Natron, near the Ngorongoro Crater and his expressed wish to rapidly build the necessary soda ash production plant fits the same pattern. Lake Natron, protected by an international agreement, is the most important refuge for flamingos and pelicans in East Africa. The President is, however, firm in saying that one could produce 500,000 tons of soda ash per year there without harming these magnificent bird populations. He describes environmentalists as unpatriotic agents of foreign powers.

Storms are brewing also for the Selous Game Reserve, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest hunting reserve. Not only did rampant poaching again raise its ugly head due to inadequate funding and a 75% budget cut, but some projects in this 50,000 km2 wilderness might soon change the face of the Selous forever. In the southern part of the reserve a new uranium mine is about to start mining on an area of 70 km2 – despite of the global endeavors to change from nuclear power to renewable energy sources, and despite of the general exclusion of mining from all areas designated as World Heritage Sites. In the northern Selous, the dam at the "Stiegler’s Gorge" rapids of the Rufiji River, contemplated and rejected already in 1982, is on the cards again. Reportedly, Brazil is interested in cooperating with Tanzania here. This dam would destroy the eco systems of the entire northern Selous. A smaller dam, which is presently being built about 100 kilometers to the northwest at Ruvu is already causing significant environmental damage. The future reservoir will destroy the summer pastures of immense buffalo and antelope herds with a foreseeable drastic reduction herd size..

Poaching is again a major threat in Tanzania. Even one of the rhinoceroses from South Africa, flown in last year by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, amidst some great media hype, has been ruthlessly killed by poachers. The carcass of rhino “George” was found by game rangers – the horns had been rudely sawn off and were missing. President Kikwete personally had welcomed rhino George on May 21st, 2010. One of the poaching suspects died in police custody.

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