May 31, 2012

Maasai: Threat of Biodiversity Degradation

A road project in the Serengeti Reserve in Tanzania, if carried out, could jeopardize the annual migration of wildfire between Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

Below is an article published by The Citizen:

New investments in and around the Selous Game Reserve and the Serengeti Plains are putting the two major biodiversity reservoirs under pressure, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warned yesterday. The IUCN head for Tanzania office, Mr Abdalla Said Shah, told The Citizen in an exclusive interview that the investments would in the long run lead to a serious degradation of biodiversity in the reserves. “What we are doing now is looking at the immediate economic gains of the investments, forgetting to realise what the situation would be, say 50 to 200 years ahead,” he said.

Mr Shah was speaking on the sidelines of a three-day workshop on Implications of Climate Change for Drylands Planning in Tanzania and District and National Levels: Opportunities and Challenges.

He was commenting on Tanzania’s plans to mine uranium in the Selous Game Reserve and open a power project at Stiegler’s Gorge which is expected to occupy 1,200 square kilometres at the 54,000-square kilometre game reserve.

The deputy minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu, said recently that the Unesco World Heritage Committee (UWHC) will next month[June 2012] decide whether or not to allow mining of uranium in the Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Africa which harbours the largest elephant population on the continent.

“The deal will be decided next month [June 2012] in St Petersburg, Russia, by the Unesco World Heritage Committee,” said Mr Nyalandu. The project would be undertaken by an Australian uranium mining firm called Mantra Resources, at a cost of $400 million on 19,793 hectares (nearly 200 square kilometres) on the southern boundary of Selous where the uranium deposits are found.

The government also plans to construct a 53-kilometre road stretch across the Serengeti National Park, a project that has drawn fierce criticism, mainly from international conservationists who claim that the project would jeopardise the spectacular annual migration of wildlife between Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

Also in the cards are plans to construct tourist lodges that would add up to existing ones in the Serengeti, including two which will fall under the five-star category.

“Environmental conservationists are regarded as anti-development but the fact remains that investment in these major biodiversity bodies will definitely degrade the areas in the long run,” said Mr Shah, an environment management expert.

“The irony is; who will wish to come to these lodges to see nothing as animals would be wiped out by the same projects?” wondered Mr Shah,  adding: “We have to look at 50 to 200 years down the road and how the situation will be.”

Speaking at the workshop, the holder of the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Professorial Chair in Environment and Climate Change, Prof Pius Yanda said: “Climate change, if not addressed, will have significant impacts on the Tanzanian economy.”

Prof Yanda said climate change was certainly threatening the attainment of the MDGs.