Activists take Aberdares road dispute to tribunal

Nema approved it but Conservation Alliance says it will hurt ecosystem

In Summary

• Nema said the road would cut travel time by an hour and a half, boost tourism  

• Conservations say it will cause severe environmental impacts on fragile ecosystem

One of the waterfalls in the Aberdare ecosyatem
One of the waterfalls in the Aberdare ecosyatem

The Conservation Alliance of Kenya has challenged the construction of a road through the Aberdares.

It has lodged an appeal with the National Environment Tribunal, citing severe environmental impacts on the fragile ecosystem.

Green Belt Movement board chair Nyaguthii Chege said the ecosystem has rich and diverse species.

“We are making a call to the government to cancel the licence that approved the construction of the road,” she said.

“We have drawn the attention of the government to the legitimate and severe environmental impacts of the proposed road.”

On January 5, the National Environment Management Authority approved the project.

It issued an Environmental Impact Assessment licence to the Kenya National Highways Authority to proceed with the road construction.

Nema said the road would boost tourism and spur economic growth.

“Analysis of route alternatives established that the proposed road is the most cost-effective route to connect Ndunyu Njeru in Nyandarua county to Ihithe in Nyeri county," Nema said in a brief.

It noted that the road would cut the travel time by more than one hour and 30 minutes over the other available alternatives.

"This will not only stimulate tourism activities in the Aberdare ecosystem but also spur the economic development of the local communities and surrounding counties,” Nema said.

Conservationists condemned Nema’s action, saying the authority is putting a fragile ecosystem at risk.

Nema requires the implementation of a comprehensive offset and compensation plan for tree species to be cleared for the controversial road through the Aberdare ecosystem.

As part of the conditions of the licence, KeNHA has been tasked with developing and carrying out the plan.

The conditions are outlined in an environmental impact assessment licence issued by the National Environment Management Authority on January 5.

The licence shows 185 acres (75 ha) of bamboo, 35 acres (14ha) of montane forest and 35 acres (14ha) of moorland.

Some 255 acres will be affected by the road section passing through the Aberdare Forest Reserve and National Park.

The road project in Nyeri and Nyandarua counties, according to the environmental and social impact assessment study report, is 97.8km long.

The main section starts at Ihithe, takes a southwesterly course through the Nyayo Tea Zone, and enters Aberdare National Park.

The road then emerges from the park at about 33km (Mutubio Gate).

From this gate, the road descends through a series of hairpin bends to Kahuruko.

The stretch between Mutubio Gate and Kahuruko, which is about 10km, is tarmacked.

From Kahuruko, the project road continues to descend and ends at its junction with the C69 Road at Ndunyu Njeru.

Other road sections included in the project include Njengu-Treetops Gate-Amboni, the Ihithe-Kiamutiga-Mukara, the Ark Gate Access, the Munyaka-Koinange-Heni-Mwendandu, and the Njoma-Weru road sections, totalling 46km.

The EIA licence says the width of the road will be reduced to 25m in sections crossing Aberdare Forest Reserve and National Park.

Also in associated works in the Nyayo Tea Zone, Aberdare Forest Reserve and National Park, and surrounding spar roads in Nyeri and Nyandarua counties.

The licence is valid for 24 months, the time within which the project shall commence.

“The offset and compensation plan shall be authorised and supervised by the lead agencies responsible for the conservation and management of the national water towers, forests and wildlife,” the conditions state.

“The implementation monitoring shall be reported to the authority on an annual basis, through environmental audit reports in line with sections 68 and 69 of the EMCA [Environmental Management and Coordination Act], 1999.”

An Environmental Impact Assessment is a critical examination of the effects of a project on the environment.

It identifies the negative and positive impacts of any development activity or project and how they affect people, property and the environment.

EIA also identifies measures to mitigate the negative impacts while maximising the positive ones. It is basically a preventive process.

It seeks to minimise adverse impacts on the environment and reduce risks.

If a proper EIA is carried out, the safety of the environment can be properly managed at all stages of a project.

Kenha will submit to Nema the detailed designs and drawings for the proposed tunnels, underpasses, viaducts and overpasses in Aberdare.

This, Nema says, is part of mitigation measures to avoid or minimise the potential adverse impacts of the road on sensitive ecological areas.

Moorland, bamboo, montane forests, wildlife species and their migratory dispersal and key habitats must be reported to Nema for approval and compliance monitoring prior to starting construction works.

Before the work commences, Kenha will have to obtain a special use permit from the Kenya Forest Service and authorization from the Kenya Wildlife Service prior to the beginning of the work.

This is in line with the Forest Conservation and Management Act of 2016 and the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of 2013.

Kenha will also ensure the section crossing the key wildlife conservation area is aligned with the Aberdare Ecosystem Management Plan and the National Wildlife Conversation Policy.

Kenha will, in partnership with KWS, KFS, and the Kenya Water Towers Agency, undertake a detailed inventory of wildlife and plant species and quantify the opportunity cost of the road to the ecological functions and ecosystem services in Aberdare.

This is not the first time the project has run into controversy.

KeNHA was compelled to suspend the project in September 2022 due to a lack of approval from key government agencies.

The Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service and Nema are among the agencies that have turned down KeNHA’s request for the green light.

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 was 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.

Signage showing the details of the controversial road through Aberdares
Signage showing the details of the controversial road through Aberdares
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