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Kenha cancels tender for Sh4.4bn road through fragile Aberdare ecosystem

The proposed upgrade of a road through the fragile Aberdare ecosystem has been suspended due to lack of approval from key government agencies, the Star has learnt.

The proposed road project would have destroyed the natural forest in the Aberdare ecosystem.

The proposed Ihithe-Aberdare Forest-Kahuruko-Ndunyu Njeru Road realignment will traverse 25 kilometres of closed canopy forest.

The road will connect Nyeri and Nyandarua counties. The 54km road is to cost Sh4.4 billion and is expected to be completed by 2023.

The Star has learnt that the Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Nema have declined to give the Kenya National Highways Authority the green light to proceed with the project.

This has compelled Kenha to suspend the tender notice for a while as it pursues the necessary approvals.

Sources revealed to the Star that the government could have lost a colossal amount of money tendering a project without the necessary approvals.

The site where the project cuts through is under the custody of KFS and KWS. The two agencies vehemently objected to the project.

Nema undertakes an environmental impact assessment of such projects before it is allowed to proceed.

It identifies both the negative and positive impacts of any development activity or project, and how it affects people, their property and the environment.

Initially, Nema raised issues with the project.

On October 27, 2009, Nema said it had reviewed the environmental impact assessment report for the project after stakeholders raised issues.

Among the issues pointed out by Nema included the fact that the project had 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.

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.

It said the Aberdare forest was one of five water towers providing water to Nairobi and also feeds Lake Naivasha, the backbone of horticulture.

“The proposed mitigation measures are inadequate in terms of addressing the anticipated negative impacts,” the letter said.

“I wish to advise that the authority is of the view that the proposed project will not enhance sustainable development and sound environmental management. You are advised to re-design your plans or explore an alternative site.”

Conservation NGO Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, Africa Wildlife Foundation and East Africa Wildlife Society have rejected the project citing “possible serious environmental impacts to the Aberdare ecosystem.”

Rhino Ark executive director Christian Lambrechts said the proposed upgrade of the road will cross and negatively impact large tracts of natural forest.

“It will also cross the moorlands of the Aberdares, which are extremely fragile ecosystems and are gazetted as a national park,” Lambrechts said.

He said the Aberdare Forest Reserve and Aberdare National Park form the Aberdare water tower, which is one of the country’s five water towers.

Interestingly, the 2015-2045 national spatial plan ranks the water towers, wetlands and natural forests as the number one protection areas where development is not permitted except for the purpose of ecotourism and research.

The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, section 44, states that every national park, marine protected area, wildlife conservation and the sanctuary shall be managed in accordance with a management plan.

The 2010-20 Aberdare ecosystem management plan identifies the moorland ecosystem, saying it is important for its water catchment value and hosts rare species, some of which are endemic to the Aberdare forest.

The controversy over the proposed road project rages even as a study showed that it won’t have any economic value.

Conservation researchers from the universities of Oxford, Nairobi and Amsterdam say the upgrade is not necessary.

They analysed scenarios of road development around Aberdare and how each performs against well-founded socio-economic measures of good road design.

The measures included the number of people living within two kilometres of a road and reductions in travel time to and between major towns.

The scientists said the only benefit of the road is slightly reduced travel time and potentially lower fuel costs, between Nyeri-Naivasha and Nyeri-Gilgil.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the new Mau Mau Road (scenario 2) will reduce travel times by 1.3-6.5 per cent on 11 routes, and increase the number of people within 2km of a tarmac road by 177,000,” the scientists said.

However, they said, the study shows there is almost no socio-economic benefit to building a road over the Aberdare Range through the Aberdare National Park.

“There is no evidence that it brings people closer to main roads, or reduces travel time to markets,” they said.

However, this is conditional on the road being upgraded to allow an average speed of greater than 50kph.

“We caution that, in reality, an average speed higher than 50kph across the Aberdare range is likely infeasible. Vehicles must climb to an altitude of 3,200m, where there is extra pressure due to the cold, fog and isolation,” they said.

They said the current roads on either side of Aberdare National Park are narrow, winding and steep, and are likely to cause traffic jams, especially if used by freight.

“It could be expected that due to the steep, tight nature of this road, the majority of freight will be expected to use the current routes outside the Aberdare National Park, rendering this road even less economically beneficial than modelled here.”

They said building roads in bogs, swamps and peatlands found at the top of Aberdare is more expensive than in other habitats because a high road base is needed to ensure that the road surface is above fluctuating water levels, along with sufficient culverts to ensure adequate drainage.

They further said the road would also provide an avenue for illegal exploitation of natural resources – including bush meat, illegal wildlife trade and logging.

Media House: The Star
Published by: Gilbert Koech

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