The European Commission has admitted its concerns over the proposed Serengeti highway in Tanzania to Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder.
Catherine Bearder has called on the European Commission to do all it can to ensure proposals for the ecologically devastating Serengeti highway undergo a thorough Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). This call comes after the Commission admitted it is concerned about the lack of comprehensive analysis in the current ESIA.
The Tanzanian President has proposed this controversial highway be built across the Serengeti National Park, cutting across the historic wildebeest migration. It is widely thought the road is being built to facilitate the mining of soda ash in the region. The Tanzanian government is currently considering the draft version of the ESIA and the next step will be to publish the final document.
Catherine Bearder, who is a a member of the European Parliament's delegation to the ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific regions), commented:
"The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of the Serengeti highway must be thorough otherwise there could be devastating consequences."
"It must have a comprehensive analysis of any impact on the environment and local communities, and also assess the impact of the proposed alternative routes."
"Unless the report is based on this criteria, it will fail to tell us anything useful and could lead to an ecological disaster."
"Building a highway across the Serengeti's ancient migration route will devastate one of the world's most precious ecosystems."
"The EU must do all it can to encourage the Tanzanian President to review the current assessment and ensure it is thorough and comprehensive."
In an answer to Catherine Bearder's Parliamentary Question on this issue, the Commission stated: "the [impact assessment] does not provide a sufficiently robust set of recommendations to guide or justify decision-making concerning the road's potential impact."
The Commission also stated it would be prepared "to support the [Tanzanian] government in developing a more strategic social and environmental assessment of the possible alternatives to connect the Victoria Lake region with the Indian Ocean and to consider financial assistance to implement feasible alternatives.
Both the World Bank and the German government have offered to help finance an alternative route, one that would be less damaging to the environment. The alternative proposal would travel around the Serengeti National Park by a southern route. So far the Tanzanian President has refused to accept the offers of funding.
Please see the full text of the European Commission's response below:
The European Commission is fully aware of the environmental concerns of the planned road across the Serengeti National Park. The EU Delegation to Tanzania is chairing the Development Partners (DP) Group for Infrastructure and, together with other involved DP. monitors the development of this proposed investment, which is currently at a planning stage.
On 21st January 2011, the Delegation received a draft final Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the project and gave it a wide distribution. A join Development Partners position on the draft ESIA, coordinated by the Commission, has been transmitted to Government, mentioning, inter alia, that the report does not provide a sufficiently robust set of recommendations to guide or justify decision-making concerning the road's potential impact.
It is also clear that one of the major shortcomings of the report is lack of a more in-depth analysis, setting out the financial, social and environmental consequences of the proposed road, with detailed data on alternative routes, which have not been considered with sufficient professional quality. The Commission and other DP believe that detailed assessment of alternatives would be a minimum requirement.
The draft ESIA is still under internal review by the Government of Tanzania hence the Commission reserves itself the right to make further observations as the document is being finalised. If requested, the European Commission and DP would be prepared to support the Government in developing a more strategic social and environmental assessment of the possible alternatives to connect the Victoria Lake region with the Indian Ocean and to consider possible financial assistance to implement feasible alternatives.
Please see below the full text of Catherine Bearder's Parliamentary Question to the European Commission:
The Tanzanian government's proposed route for a highway across the Serengeti National Park has drawn widespread criticism from environmental experts, because of potential threats the route may have on the annual wildlife migration. Leading Oxford wildlife scientists and ecologists state that the highway will 'have impacts far greater than its length; it will tear the heart out of Africa's most iconic migratory ecosystem' (Mark Stanley Price and Prof David MacDonald of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit).
Building transport infrastructure is an important tool for fostering economic development and for reducing poverty. However, given the potential threat to biodiversity and ecosystems in the Serengeti National Park, does the Commission agree that an alternative route, which could provide the necessary transport infrastructure whilst protecting the Serengeti's ecosystems, would be the most appropriate solution?
Following President Kikwete's statement (10th February) that he has rejected an offer of funding from the World Bank to study an alternative route, does the Commission intend to offer incentives for the Tanzanian government to abandon current proposals and adopt an alternative route, less damaging to the Serengeti's ecosystems?
What would these incentives consist of?