Reduce impact of infrastructure development on the ecosystem

Tsavo National Park elephants

An elephant crosses the Tsavo East game drive along the Voi-Mwatate-Taveta road. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The growth and expansion of transportation infrastructure since the turn of the century is phenomenal. Up to 25 million kilometres of new infrastructure is expected by 2050, around 90 per cent of it in Africa and Asia, under the Chinese global Belt and Road Initiative.

For many Sub-Saharan African countries, infrastructure is important for national and regional, cultural and economic integration; and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union Commission.

Kenya, a key economic hub of Eastern Africa and gateway to landlocked Central Africa, has experienced particularly rapid and extensive infrastructure development under the Kenya Vision 2030 development agenda. Key infrastructure projects include the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) and the standard gauge railway (SGR) corridors and associated projects, including ports, roads, power lines and pipelines.

But these developments present both potential direct and indirect positive and negative outcomes for nature and people.

Sensitive areas

The projects pass through ecologically significant and sensitive areas — like world-famous national parks and several community conservancies — resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation, disturbance and creation of barriers to the movement and migration of wildlife and wildlife mortality through collision with vehicles.

They undermine the ability of wildlife to adapt to climatic and anthropogenic impacts, including the threat of poaching, due to enhanced human access.

Wildlife-vehicle collision (WVC) is increasingly becoming the main cause of wildlife mortality for several species and is projected to surpass hunting as the main source of direct mortality on land. In a study conducted between January and December 2020, a total of 207 wild animals were reported killed on a section of the Mombasa-Nairobi highway (A109) and Voi-Taveta road (A23) within the protected Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA).

Speeding vehicles

Although most of the animals killed are under the “least concern” category of the IUCN species list, a few are “near threatened” . A significant number were killed by speeding vehicles near human settlements, which constitutes a threat to human life as well. The A23, which connects Kenya and Tanzania through Holili border town, is used mostly by hauliers and passenger vehicles transporting foodstuff. The road also runs through Tsavo West National Park and is used by tourist vehicle.

With a lot of grains and other food wastes scattered on the road, that attracts birds and other mammals to the road. Thus, the high number of birds which feed on insects, seeds and vegetation can be attributed to the availability of such food substrates on the road.

Important as it is, the TCA ecosystem is under multiple threats, including existing as well as new ones occasioned by infrastructure development, land-use change, growing and increasing sedentary human settlements, which is further compounded by climate variability.

The combination of these threats will have significant direct and indirect impacts on the functioning and integrity of the TCA ecosystem and major impacts on wildlife and, ultimately, erode the country’s infrastructure development gains.

While this is a work in progress, some of the recommended solutions include using technical measures such as fences, gullies and olfactory, as well as optical and acoustical repellents to keep animals off the infrastructure.

Other proposals include adapting the infrastructure design through the suppression of attractive vegetation that could provide food, shelter or nesting sites; and enhancing driver or animal awareness to danger through warning signs, roadside clearance, optical reflectors or olfactory signals, road lighting combined with infra-red detectors.

Of importance also is public education; and instituting legal and policy measures such as considering roadkills as serious road accidents and, hence, a traffic infringement.

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