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Plans to upgrade a road in Aberdare Forest kicks-off an environmental storm in Kenya

The estimated elephant population in the Aberdare ecosystem is 3,568. PHOTO/KWS RHINO PROG.

By ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT

newshub@eyewitness.africa

Environmental conservationists have warned against plans by the government to upgrade a road cutting through the Aberdare Forest ecosystem that is a habitat to a variety of wildlife.

Among the environmental conservationists that have opposed the project include; Rhino Ark Charitable Trust; Africa Wildlife Foundation and East Africa Wildlife Society.

They warn that plans to have a road cut-through the Aberdare ecosystem was an environmental catastrophe in waiting as 28-kilometres of the proposed road passes through protected areas that are a bamboo vegetation zone.

The Kenya National Highways Authority is proposing to upgrade the Ihithe – Aberdare Forest – Aberdare National Park – Ndunyu Njeru Road, as Lot 4 of the Mau Mau Road Project.

The Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) proposes to upgrade the road from an earth to an all-weather road. The road upgrade is expected to cost taxpayers more than Sh8 billion.

The Aberdare ecosystem provides a habitat for elephants, black rhinos, leopards, spotted hyenas, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, buffalos, warthogs and bushbucks among others and rare sightings of the Giant Forest hog, bongo, golden cat, serval cat, African wild cat, African civet cat and the blue duiker. 

The national park is also home to scenic and majestic peaks, moorlands and spellbinding and marvelous water falls.

The international community led by the United Nations (UN) would be keenly following developments on the planned road upgrade in the Aberdare ecosystem as the Kenya government is a signatory to numerous international environmental protocols that include the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework on Climate Change, Ramsar Conventions on wetlands among others.

The environmental conservationists note that an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report shows that around 104 hectares (256.9892 acres) of vegetation are lying in areas that will potentially be cleared.

Out of this, 75 hectares (185.32875 acres) of bamboo, 14 hectares of forest (34.5947 acres) and 14 hectares (34.5947 acres) of moorland will potentially be destroyed.

“The road will cross wilderness areas with high numbers of diverse wildlife species. The higher traffic usage of the proposed upgraded road will lead to frequent collisions with wildlife, impacting on threatened and endemic species, and increasing road accidents,” they said in a terse objection letter in our possession.

The Aberdare ecosystem is also home to spellbinding and marvelous water falls. PHOTO/KWS RHINO PROG.

The massive Aberdare ecosystem covers a protected area of about 2,162 km2 consisting of Aberdare Forest Reserve, Kikuyu Escarpment, and Kipipiri Forest Reserves, and Aberdare National Park. Also included is Lake Ol bollosat and the surrounding riparian system.

The environmental lobbyists say a 2017 report ‘Elephant Survey, Aberdare Conservation Area’ by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Rhino Ark with support from the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service showed that the ecosystem hosts elephants that represent nearly 10 per cent of the total elephant population in Kenya.

The estimated elephant population in the Aberdare ecosystem is 3,568, with a medium to high concentration of elephants in the moorlands that will be interfered with by the proposed upgraded road.

Government agencies such as the Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service and the National Environment Management Authority are on record for being opposed to the planned project.

This forced KeNHA to suspend the road project in September last year before seeking the necessary approvals which are yet to be obtained thus far.

On April 20, Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen, Environment CS Soipan Tuya and Tourism’s Peninah Malonza appeared before a Joint Senate Committee on Land, Environment and Natural Resources, and Roads, Transportation and Housing to shed light on the stalled project.

During the meeting, it was agreed that the concerns raised about the project will be addressed.

A review of the environmental impact assessment report for the project by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) shows that the project plans failed to provide alternative routes to mitigate the identified adverse impacts on the natural forest.

“The proposed project will have massive impacts on the natural forests during construction. It is possible that some endangered tree species may be affected,” Nema said in a letter dated October 27, 2009 according to The Star.

The letter referenced NEMA/EIA/5/2/421 from Nema was signed by M M Langwen and shared with Roads PS.

The letter warned that the negative impact of the project will be felt far and wide adding that the Aberdare forest was one of the five water towers providing water to Nairobi and also feeds Lake Naivasha, the backbone of horticulture industry.

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