UPDATE 17. March 2021: Scientists’ verdict: SGR is good for business, bad for the environment
Update: April 2019 - The building of the railway cutting right through Nairobi National Park could not be stopped, because Richard Leakey - heading the Board of th Kenya Wildlife Service - had signed "no objections" to the Chinese project. But now the government of China has refused to pay the envisaged loan for phase II of the SGR (of which the already built traverse through the National Park is part) and the project will most likely never be completed. Half of the National Park's southern border is now completely cut off from any wildlife migration thanks to high security fences along the railway track and no wildlife underpasses.
If Tourism and Wildlife Minister Najib Balala's phony proposal - to sentence every poacher to death and to carry out the death sentence in Kenya again - had been enacted and would have been expanded to include everyone who disturbs wildlife and damages the natural environment, all the Chinese contractors and their henchmen executing the ill-designed construction of the railway-tract for the SGR would be dead by now.
Their daily detonations to blast their way into Nairobi National Park drive man and beast likewise around the bent and wildlife out of it. Buffaloes, stranded like the other day at Tuala (Oloosirkon) Bridge, are then driven by gunshots back into the Park by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) personnel. It is a WAR-ZONE and total insanity what is happening there in the name of "development". Something which now also the human residents feel, who are cut off their access roads and electricity.
Some, however, will bring up as argument to maintain their ignorance that Oscar Mann's call below comes years too late, alas the total destruction of NNP can still be stopped.
But only if it is stopped NOW. [UPDATE: WELL, IT WAS NOT STOPPED - mainly because greedy landowners in the Tuala area - in clear violation of the Treaty with the Maasai - were coerced and then willing to sell their land.]
One thing is for sure: The Maasai didn't bring the weed and the Maasai didn't bring the SGR. "Aid" and "development" just walks over them, while they are too weak and individually greedy to put up communal resistance for the greater and common good of their people and their land.
- Railway traversed key ecosystems, creating a barrier to animal movement and reducing the sizes of some ecosystems and resources, among other disruptions.
By PAULINE KAIRU - 17. March 2021
In Tuala area in Kajiado County, south of Nairobi, a small unintentional lake with suspended sediment load in an abandoned quarry has been a source of concern for residents and environmentalists. In Narok County, west of Nairobi, storm water is said to be stripping farms of soil.
These are some of the effects of landscape alterations due to the construction and operation of the standard gauge railway (SGR), scientists say, adding habitat destruction and impeding wildlife movements to the list.
In fact, scientists are questioning how effectively recommendations from environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) proposals for the SGR were implemented in the development of the railway seeing as there is widespread environmental degradation around SGR.
“Our research and anecdotal reports point to the existence of negative impacts on the ecological wellbeing and processes along the SGR corridor,” said environmentalists in a report titled Assessing the ecological impacts of transportation infrastructure development: A reconnaissance study of the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya released in February.
The China-funded and constructed SGR project was given the go-ahead following the completion of two environmental and social impact assessments, but scientists question how effectively recommendations were implemented in the development, given the widespread environmental degradation.
“Large-scale infrastructure investment are a catalyst for economic growth, but our research shows that before this can happen more work is needed to quantify ecological impacts on the land,” observed Prof Robert Marchant, from the University of York's Department of Environment and Geography.
“Not only this, but should issues arises once the projects are complete, there must be a ready-to-go mitigation strategy that can be applied to reduce further damage quickly.”
Now, they are asking project managers to develop sustainable and ecologically sensitive measures to mitigate the key ecosystem impacts.
“It’s not yet clear what ecosystem services could be lost in the longer term, clearly the infrastructure impacts on ecosystems will affect the value and delivery of natural capital, particularly those associated with water and wildlife impacts,” said the scientists.
The SGR construction was accompanied by activities such as soil compaction, excavation and movement of soil from one location to another to erect the embankments.
These activities altered and created barriers to natural processes including natural hydrology and animal migration routes.
The research published in the PlosOne journal, said the main environmental impact observed from the SGR is ecosystem degradation.
“Construction of the SGR together with the associated quarrying activities resulted in removal of forest or vegetation cover, destruction of water sources such as rivers, wetlands, grasslands, and parts of protected areas.
‘‘Respondents observed that activities along the SGR, modified or disturbed the natural ecosystems especially low-lying, poorly drained land in areas around Kibwezi, Mombasa and Voi,” researchers noted.
“Our team observed that wetlands around Kitengela and Kiboko were blocked off and damaged, thereby affecting natural water flow. Similarly, we observed that forests in Kibwezi at the KEFRI station had been cleared to create way for the construction of the railway.”
According to the team, there was emergence of illegal activities such as grazing in protected areas.
“Kenya Wildlife Service officials observed that “local communities use the underpasses to pass their livestock through to Tsavo National Park particularly around Bachuma Gate”.
The livestock incursions they observed “resulted in serious soil degradation in the southern part of Tsavo East”.
Local communities around quarries used for construction materials reported impacts of “blasting for construction materials causing tremors in the area, leading to buildings cracking,” for example, at Oloosirkon Primary School. Meanwhile, dust pollution was also a challenge and impacts include infections from dust, coughs and chest pain”
At the coast, Community Forest Association officials reported increased sediments eroded from the railway embankments that not only affected mangroves seed development and self-germination but also blocked streams in Kilindini.
In Voi, county officials observed that “storm water directed to the culverts flooded low lying homesteads and farms during heavy rainfall”.
It also emerged of recent invasive plant species spreading rapidly along the SGR corridor. The problem is being observed both in Tsavo East-West National Parks, where the invasive cactus Opuntia stricta and Prosopis juliflora (known locally as Mathenge) were also prevalent along the new highway from Voi to Taveta.
Invasions and siltation
However, we could not establish the connection between the spread of invasive plant species and construction and operation of the SGR,” said the scientists.
Additionally, respondents from Nairobi and Narok Counties reported incidents of “flooding along the culvert [underpasses] when it rained while rivers [Empakashe and Mbagathi] were blocked or dried up because they had been filled with silt from construction”.
In Narok county farmers complained directing water to the underpasses led to gulley erosion affecting soil cover. The soil has also been reported to lead to siltation of Lake Magadi.
The SGR traversed key ecosystems and resources creating a barrier to the movement of terrestrial animals and reducing sizes of some ecosystems and resources. Participants in the meetings raised concerns that “the infrastructure had been seen to affect wildlife movement, for example with animals congregating along the highway”.
Other issues raised include loss of ecosystem integrity through truncation of ecosystems into smaller, often isolated, patches that may not maintain or sustain ecological processes in the long run. Also of concern was physical disturbance and disruption to the composition, structure and functioning of ecosystem.
Movement, migration and survival of wildlife species, deaths through vehicle/train–wildlife collisions and behavioural modification among diverse species were major issues.