BY AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
PARIS, Jun 26 – A plan to build a highway through Tanzania’s Serengeti which environmentalists warned would spell disaster for the national park’s famed wildebeest migration has been dropped, UNESCO said on Saturday.
The spectacle, which is a major tourist draw, is one of the planet’s greatest natural spectacles.
The proposed highway would have linked remote under-developed communities to larger hubs, cutting a swathe through the park into which giant herds of wildebeest crowd every summer to seek Kenya’s pastures.
Following criticism of the project, the Tanzanian government informed he United Nations’ cultural organisation UNESCO that it had been dropped.
Campaigners however cautioned that the battle to kill off the project had not yet been conclusively won and warned that the government was looking at an alternative route.
“The World Heritage Committee has received assurance on the part of the Tanzanian government that the highway project is abandoned,” an official at the UN’s education, science and culture organisation told AFP.
“The committee has therefore decided not to list the site on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites because the threat has disappeared,” the official added.
Tanzania’s government had backed the road plan by saying that the country should start caring for its people as much as it did for its wildlife.
But critics said it would destroy what scientists consider to be the “largest remaining migratory system on Earth” and lobbied hard against the project.
“We do not consider this the final word in the Serengeti Highway saga by any means,” the group said on its website.
The Serengeti Highway was intended to link Musoma, on the banks of Lake Victoria, to Arusha.
The project’s critics argued the road would achieve the opposite of what it set out to do by destroying a key tourist attraction and thus stripping local communities of their jobs.
Serengeti Watch said the government was considering a highway that would wrap around the southern tip of the protected areas. It quoted a letter it said had been written by Tanzania’s Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Ezekiel Maige.
AFP was not able Saturday to check the authenticity of this letter with the Tanzanian government.
Last year, 27 biodiversity experts co-signed a statement published in Nature magazine arguing that building a road through the park would cause an environmental disaster.
An environment group had previously argued that the road was illegal under the terms of East African Community Treaty, signed by Burundia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
The Africa Network for Animal Welfare said the road could lead to an increase poaching and more collisions between migrating animals and speeding vehicles, making the project untenable.