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The road through Nairobi National Park: Environmental disaster for Kenya?

20 Jun 2018 10:45 AM
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Photo Credit: Flickr | Mudflap DC

Edited with Permission by Frontier

The proposed road through Nairobi National Park threatens the eco-systems in Kenya’s most fragile national park. The small park is significant in terms of wildlife and for the tourism industry; the loss of habitat and increased human presence could threaten the continued success of the park. 

Kenya is midway through a development plan that aims to turn itself into an industrialised mid-level income economy. Part of this has involved the rapid development of infrastructure with the particular goal of extending the network of roads and railways. This includes plans to build a road, 4.5 kilometres long and 21 meters wide, smack bang through the middle of Nairobi National Park, which has been opened and untouched since 1947 making it Kenya’s oldest national park.

Proposed by Kenya Railways, the road would serve the purpose of linking a container depot to a road on the other side of the park and will allegedly improve efficiency and transport costs. The National Environment and Management Agency (NEMA) have approved the plans but there are concerns about the legality of a road through the national park and that the environmental impacts of such a road are being overlooked in favour of the industrial economy.

 

Photo Credit: Flickr | Luigi Guarino

Nairobi National Park (http://www.kws.go.ke/parks/nairobi-national-park) is totally unique; it is ingrained as part of the capital city. The grass plains within the heart of the city are set with the backdrop of a city skyline, and Nairobi is one of the region’s most diverse national parks. The park, just a short drive from the central business district, is home to 100 different mammal species including animals such as lions, cheetahs, giraffe and buffalo.

It is also the world’s densest population of black rhinos, a species that are under constant threat of poaching and extinction due to the high demand for rhino horn on the black market. Not to mention the park plays host to 400 species of bird; more than the entirety of the UK. It attracts around 150,000 visitors a year, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kenya, as tourists flock to see the sights of zebras grazing under the watchful eye of towering skyscrapers. The importance of this park cannot be overstated. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons | Mkimemia

Despite the modest size of the road, the damage it could do to the ecosystems within the park is unknown. Nairobi National Park already struggles with air pollution and traffic caused by the close proximity to the city and the addition of a road may prove too much to bear. The resulting loss of habitat would not just mean a small loss of grassland; it would be the loss of precious resources for the animals.

This would include trees that help to reduce the level of air pollution and restricting the areas that animals can roam which in turn would affect their physical and mental health. The noise of the traffic could also be confuse and frighten animals in the park. Conservationists are also worried that it will increase the wildlife/human contact as the reduce space will push wildlife further and further towards the perimeters of the park and will only result in conflict. 

Photo Credit: Flickr | Carlos Felipe Pardo

There are also questions about the legality of such a road being  built, as the approval came from the Kenyan Wildlife Society, who technically have no right to give away any of the park. That power lies with the Nairobi Land Commission and therefore the society has no power or right to authorise such a road being built. 
 
When this was brought to the Friends of Nairobi National Parks meeting, the ensuing outrage resulted in the formation of the Nairobi Civil Society Alliance to lobby for the environmental laws of Kenya to protect the national park and prevent the road from being built. They also argue that the road does not have to be built through the park; it could be built around the perimeter which although would make it longer, would ensure the continued protection of the parks habitat.
 
 

The battle to save Nairobi National Park is ongoing, with dedicated volunteers doing everything in their power to protect this vital piece of land. The more people that get behind the campaign the more power they have to stop the unnecessary destruction of habitat; sign the petition to add your voice and save Nairobi National Park.

Marnie Woodmeade - Online Journalism Intern 

 

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