FRAGILE ECOSYSTEM

Road through Aberdare Forest won't add value — study

Scientists say the only benefit is slightly reduced travel time and potentially lower fuel costs

In Summary

• The road that will connect Nyeri and Nyandarua counties is expected to be completed by 2023.

• Local conservation group Rhino Ark Charitable Trust has written to Kenha director general Peter Mundinia raising objections.

Aberdare Forest
Aberdare Forest
Image: /FILE

The proposed upgrade of a road that cuts through Aberdare Forest will not have any economic value, a new study has shown.

The 54 Ihithe-Aberdare Forest-Kahuruko-Ndunyu Njeru road will be upgraded from earth to all-weather by the Kenya National Highways Authority for Sh4.4 billion.

But 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 3200m, 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 also 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.

The forest has 63 endemic plants, an important bird area, 1,500 endangered African elephants, the largest remaining population of critically endangered Eastern Mountain Bongo, and a small population of endangered black rhino.

The scientists said given Kenya’s limited development budgets and reliance on international aid and loans, developments such as new roads must yield the highest possible economic returns.

Considering the low socio-economic returns of this development, it appears that its construction is not worth the risk posed to biodiversity and ecosystem services found within the National Park.

They said improving road infrastructure around Aberdare (Scenario 2) best meets these objectives. This analysis is designed to support sustainable development and will help ensure Kenya builds roads to prosperity, not roads to nowhere.

The road that will connect Nyeri and Nyandarua counties is expected to be completed by 2023.

 Local conservation group Rhino Ark Charitable Trust has written to Kenha director general Peter Mundinia raising objections.

In a letter dated November 29, 2019, the Trust says it has serious grounds for concern about the environmental impacts of the proposed upgrade.

“Our concerns are not made as a bid to hinder the development of the local communities and business owners but with the aim of conserving the environment for the benefit not only of the local community members but all Kenyans,” the trust said.

The Trust, a key stakeholder in the conservation of the Aberdare ecosystem, said the road will cut through the moorland ecosystem, which is important for water catchment and wildlife. 

The letter was copied to Infrastructure PS, Wildlife PS, KFS board chair, KWS board chair, KWS director general, Chief Conservator of Forests, Nema director general, CEO Conservation Alliance, CEO WWF-Kenya and regional director International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Others are Africa Wildlife Foundation, the African Conservation Centre, the Green Belt Movement, the East Africa Wildlife Society and the Kenya Tourism Board.

Nema in a letter to Roads PS on October 27, 2009, had indicated that the authority was unable to issue an environmental impact assessment licence for the upgrade.

This, the environmental agency said, was because the proposed project would have massive impacts on natural forests.

Nema said Aberdare is one of the five water towers in the country. It provides water to Nairobi, feeds Lake Naivasha and is the backbone of Kenya’s horticulture.

The five main water towers in Kenya are Mt Elgon, Mau, Cherangany Hills, Aberdare and Mt Kenya. They provide approximately 75 per cent of Kenya’s water resources.

Edited by A.N

ELEPHANT Elegant in Aberdare. Upgraded road would cut through its habitat. Image: COURTESY
ELEPHANT Elegant in Aberdare. Upgraded road would cut through its habitat. Image: COURTESY