Conservationists appeal to Environmental Tribunal on Aberdare road

A section of the road links Nyeri through the Aberdare National Park. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A group of conservation organisations have appealed to the National Environment Tribunal to stop the upgrade of a highway cutting through the Aberdare National Park and Forest Reserve.

Conservation Alliance of Kenya brings together 73 conservation organisations that have been piling pressure on the National Environment Management Authority to reverse its decision to grant a license for the upgrade of the controversial Mau Mau road.

Through the CAK’s legal counsel Brian Onderi, the organisations have lodged their regicomplaint with the National Environmental Tribunal over NEMA’s decision to approve the construction of the road.

The alliance said that they have valid grounds for contesting the decision.

“My clients have, with cogent grounds, already aired their dissatisfaction with Nema’s decision. I have, on behalf of my clients, lodged an appeal with the National Environment Tribunal (NET) and I am confident that NET will consider all the issues fairly for the welfare of the country,” Mr Onderi said.

The conservation organisations warned that the impact of the proposed Ndunyu Njeru – Ihithe highway will be detrimental to the delicate Aberdare ecosystem.Nature Kenya Director Paul Matiku said that the decision by NEMA to issue a license for the upgrade of the road did not consider the ecological, social, and economic attributes of the water catchment and Key Biodiversity Area. The road will cut through the park’s most sensitive areas such as the wilderness activity zone.

“Despite experts’ and scientists’ advice that the road through the Aberdares is ecologically, socially and economically not viable, NEMA went ahead to issue a license. Aberdares ecosystem services will be compromised for generations to come,” Matiku said. He added that Kenya is obligated to protect all globally threatened species that occur within the country under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“The approved project works against the national government’s obligation in respect of the environment as stipulated in the Kenyan Constitution, the National Wildlife Strategy 2030, and in Multilateral Environment Agreements,” he said.

The Aberdare ecosystem is crucial for the country’s economic development being one of the five main water towers providing water to millions of residents. Nairobi City also heavily relies on water from Aberdare. The ecosystem is also home to unique and threatened wildlife, including the black rhino and mountain bongos, and has one of the highest populations of elephants in the country.

While the primary objective of the road is to connect Nyeri County with Nyandarua County, conservationists argue that there exists an alternative route that not only minimises environmental impact, because it is outside the park fence, but also offers greater socio-economic and connectivity benefits to a larger population in Nyandarua, Nyeri, and neighbouring counties.

“The Ndaragwa – Pesi – Shamata – Kariamu route also provides a shorter connection to the two-county headquarters, Olkalau, and Nyeri, 110 kilometres compared to the proposed road’s 115 kilometers,” Rhino Ark CEO Christian Lambrects said.

They further argued that the alternative route is also significantly cheaper to construct as it will cost one-third less at Sh1.5 billion compared to the proposed Sh4.4 billion.

“Sadly, the government did not consider this alternative road and decided to approve a road with no proven socioeconomic benefits and serious and irreversible negative impacts on one of the most vital natural ecosystems of this country,” Lambrects added.