NAIROBI, May 24 (Swara) – The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) has raised serious objections to the proposed upgrading of the Ihithe-Aberdare Forest-Ndunyu Njeru Road in the Aberdare ecosystem.

After a thorough examination of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, EAWLS, its affiliated forums and members have concluded that the report is misleading, inaccurate, biased, and lacks merit. The organisation urges the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to reject the EIA report because it cannot be relied upon for making a proper policy decision.

The Aberdare ecosystem, comprising a national park, forest, and wetlands, is ecologically sensitive and highly fragile. It serves as a key water tower, supplying water to Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, and Lake Naivasha, which is crucial for horticulture.

Additionally, the Aberdare ecosystem supports millions of wildlife, livestock, and people across several counties. It is designated as an Important Bird Area and Key Biodiversity Area, providing essential habitat for globally threatened species. Notably, the critically endangered Mountain bongo, with the highest population remaining in Kenya, is found in this ecosystem. Furthermore, the proposed road project would traverse areas with the highest elephant density in Kenya, as indicated by the 2017 Elephant Survey.

EAWLS has identified several reasons for objecting to the project based on its review of the EIA report and consultations with stakeholders. The organisation highlights that the road project would convert a narrow marram road within Aberdare National Park into a wide tarmac road, opening access to all traffic, including trucks. This change, along with the removal of the speed limit of 40 kph meant to mitigate the impact on wildlife, and the fact that the proposed 25-kilometre road traverses through closed canopy forest and other protected areas would have severe short, medium, and long-term ramifications on this critical ecosystem.

EAWLS has specifically criticized the EIA report for focusing mainly on the impacts and mitigation measures during the construction stage while neglecting to adequately address the environmental impacts and cumulative effects during the operational phases. The organisation stresses that the report’s mitigation measures primarily concentrate on construction, disregarding the environmental management activities and costs to be incurred after project completion. Additionally, the report fails to recognize the loss of revenue by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) resulting from enabling free access to parks and forest reserves, nor does it incorporate strategies for addressing increased surveillance costs in protected areas.

Moreover, EAWLS argues that the project is not economically or socially tenable, as it offers minimal benefits to the local population and does not address existing problems. The organization cites a study conducted by the universities of Nairobi, Oxford, and Amsterdam, which found that the proposed road upgrade would bring negligible socio-economic benefits and fail to improve access to main roads or reduce travel time to markets.

The EIA report also fails to adequately consider alternative routes, ignoring the mitigation hierarchy and neglecting to explore a no-project alternative. The absence of thorough examination and consideration of economically, socially, and environmentally viable alternatives outside the critical Aberdare ecosystem is a significant shortcoming. EAWLS notes that the report has not adequately addressed the issues raised by NEMA in 2009, which led to the rejection of this very project and the denial of an EIA licence.

Furthermore, EAWLS highlights the lack of wider stakeholder consultations during the report’s preparation, which excluded crucial environmental stakeholders and biodiversity experts. The organisation emphasizes the need for comprehensive biodiversity surveys and cumulative impact mapping to provide accurate baseline data for monitoring the project’s impact.

The implications of the proposed project are significant. Habitat loss and fragmentation would occur, irreversibly impacting closed-canopy forests, wildlife corridors, wetlands, and other critical conservation areas. This fragmentation could lead to the collapse of wildlife populations, similar to what has been observed in other areas due to land fragmentation. The project also threatens water scarcity and exacerbates the effects of climate change, as the Aberdare ranges serve as a key water catchment area and provide water to major rivers and dams.

Additionally, the proposed project could contribute to wildlife poaching, solid waste pollution, and the introduction of high-speed traffic, jeopardizing the welfare of both wildlife and local communities. It also undermines national and international policies, plans, and strategies for climate change, sustainable development goals, and wildlife conservation.

EAWLS urges NEMA to consider these concerns and reject the EIA report for the proposed upgrading of the Ihithe-Aberdare Forest-Ndunyu Njeru Road project. The organisation also calls for a thorough examination of alternative routes and comprehensive stakeholder consultations to ensure the protection and conservation of the Aberdare ecosystem.

You can read EAWLS’ analysis of the EIA report here: