Why Sh4.4bn road through Aberdare will go as planned

CS Tuya says such cases must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis

In Summary

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

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

Aberdare Forest Image: /FILE
Aberdare Forest Image: /FILE

The majestic peaks, moorlands and intriguing falls of the Aberdare ecosystem are at risk following an indication by the state that the Sh4.4 billion upgrade of the road cutting through it will go on after all.

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

The government wants to upgrade it from earth to an all-weather surface. It will connect Nyeri and Nyandarua counties.

The road will start at Ihithe market in Nyeri and cut into the Aberdare Forest National Park at Kiandogoro Gate before going through Mutubio gate in Kahuruko.

The project will then go through Njabini-Ol Kalou road in Ndunyu Njeru.

On Tuesday, Environment CS Soipan Tuya said requests for such exemptions are crucial as roads are critical for development.

“I receive requests on a daily basis for exemptions. From the ban on logging, exception for creation of roads within the forests, let us also deal with that on its merit at an opportune time,” Tuya said.

She said such cases must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Tuya said the road should however not open up space for deforestation or degrading ecosystems.

She made the remarks at Windsor Hotel when she led a ministerial delegation appearing before National Assembly committee on Environment during the consideration of the first supplementary estimates for 2022-23.

“We are here to stay together as a committee and ministry for partnership so we are very open with the kind of each and every issue that comes not just for the members of this committee but any other issue that comes from the representatives of the people,” Tuya said.

Environment CS Soipan Tuya when she appreared before parliamentary Committee on Environment,Forestry and Mining at Safari Park Hotel February 14. Image:Handout.
Environment CS Soipan Tuya when she appreared before parliamentary Committee on Environment,Forestry and Mining at Safari Park Hotel February 14. Image:Handout.

On Wednesday, a source familiar with the happening told the Star on the phone that Kenha has called for the validation of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report.

The validation exercise is set to take place on February 23 at White Rhino hotel in Nyeri.

ESIA is a systematic and critical examination of the effects of a project on the environment.

The Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, and National Environment Management Authority declined to give the Kenya National Highways Authority the green light to proceed with the project.

This compelled Kenha to suspend the tender notice last September as it pursues the necessary approvals.

This was because 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.


Nema carries out impact assessments to assess and monitor all environmental phenomena to ascertain any possible changes in the environment and their possible impact.

The authority also monitors the operation of any industry, project, policy or activity to determine its immediate and long-term effects on the environment.

Nema had declined to give a go-ahead for the project, citing impact on the fragile ecosystem.

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

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

Nema said Aberdare is one of the five water towers and it provides water to Nairobi city and feeds Lake Naivasha, 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.

The Nema report was copied to the KFS, KWS, Kenya Tourism Federation and East Africa Wildlife Society.

Conservationists also joined key government agencies in opposing the project.

 Rhino Ark Charitable Trust wrote to Kenha raising objections.

In a letter dated November 29, 2009, the trust says it has serious grounds for concern about the environmental impacts of the proposed upgrade.

“Our concerns are not to hinder the development of the local communities and business owners but to conserve the environment for the benefit not only of the local community but all Kenyans,” the trust said.

“It will also cross the moorlands of the Aberdares that are extremely fragile ecosystems and gazetted as a national park." 

The letter was copied to the PS Infrastructure, PS wildlife, KFS Board Chair, and KWS board chairperson.

Others copied included the KWS director-general, chief conservator of forests, Nema director-general, CEO of Conservation Alliance, CEO WWF-Kenya and regional director International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Africa Wildlife Foundation, Africa Conservation Centre, Green Belt Movement, East Africa Wildlife Society and Kenya Tourism board were also copied.

The Aberdare Forest has picturesque, steep forested ravines and open moorland that characterise the Aberdare National Park.

The park provides a habitat for elephants, black rhinos, leopards, spotted hyenas, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, buffalos, warthogs and bushbucks among others.

The forest has the largest remaining population of critically endangered Eastern Mountain Bongo.

Rare sightings include those of the giant forest hog, bongo, golden cat, serval cat, African wild cat, African civet cat and the blue duiker.

At the park, visitors can indulge in picnics, trout fishing in the rivers and camping in the moorlands.

Bird viewing at the park is also rewarding, with more than 250 species, including the Jackson's Francolin, Sparrow hawks, goshawks, eagles, sunbirds and plovers.

A 2017 report said the elephant population in the Aberdare ecosystem was 3,568.

It was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Rhino Ark, the KWS and KFS.

Medium to a high concentration of elephants is in the moorland through which the road will cut.

As the state pushes the road, conservation researchers from the universities of Oxford, Nairobi and Amsterdam said the upgrade of the road 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 through the Aberdare National Park.

"There is no evidence that it brings people closer to the 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 50 kph.

“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.”

The researchers 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, the illegal wildlife trade, and logging.

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.

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