By Stephen Macharia
A conservation society h as faulted the government for “compromising environmental integrity” by constructing a section of phase two of Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) through the Nairobi National Park.
The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS), a 60-year-old environment conservation organisation, accuses Kenyan government of sideling conservationists in mapping out the SGR line route.
In an interview with Safari Njema Magazine, EAWLS Executive Director Julius Kamau said with proper engagement, the SGR line from Mombasa to Nairobi would have avoided passing through National Parks.
“If proper feasibility studies were taken on board, the SGR line would have avoided critical eco systems such as the Nairobi National Park, boosting sustainable development,” Kamau said wondering why the SGR line did not follow the reserve land of the old railway to Rift Valley.
Kamau noted the old railway line, constructed during the colonial time, avoided the park adding that SGR would have used the allocated railway land. Kamau said the phase 2 of SGR line will take up to 100 acres of Nairobi National Park land, terming it an “onslaught on nature” that will not only affect migration of animals at the Park but also pollute a hitherto indigenous environment.
“Once completed, some travellers may throw litter out of the window into the park. This will pollute the scenic environment as well as put animals at risk of poisoning,” Kamau told Safari Njema Magazine.
In a press release, EAWLS accused the “Kenya Wildlife Service of granting Kenya Railways and China Roads & Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the project contractor, formal access to the Nairobi National Park despite an order by National Environment Tribunal (NET) halting construction works of phase 2A of SGR.”
“EAWLS wishes to re-emphasize the need for Kenya Railways to comply with the ‘STOP ORDERS’ issued by NET and respect the rule of law and subsequently stop any activities related to the SGR Phase 2A with immediate effect,” the statement reads in part. “We are not against developmental infrastructure.
But it is possible to develop and at the same time protect the integrity of the environment. We cannot do one exclusive of the other,” Kamau says. He further added, “if there were proper environmental impact assessment process of the phase two of SGR, the environmentalists would not had an issue with the project.” Kamau however called on government to further engage wildlife conservation groups in designing and mapping of infrastructural projects.
“There is need to incorporate scientific mapping of wildlife corridors in the parks,” he said further noting “there is need to have an inclusive planning and designing process that considers social, environmental and economic considerations.” The director told Safari Njema Magazine that construction of the railway line in the national park “compromises the aesthetic value of a natural park.”
Once operational, EAWLS fears that train passengers may throw out of the train windows, foreign plants into the park. Littering, Kamau said, may also happen which may result to poisoning some of the animals in the park. “It will take 18 months to construct the railway line through the park. That will promote noise pollution and may even lead to illegal wildlife trade,” Kamau notes.
However, the government has dispelled fears that the railway construction work in the park will compromise Nairobi National Park. In an interview with Safari Njema, Dr. Julius Muia, Vision 2030 Director General said the government considered environmental effects during design of the railway. “The government incurred more construction costs due to suspended railway. The design incorporates wildlife crossing areas,” he said.
Kamau urged Kenyans to play a bigger role in environmental conservation noting that the country’s coat of arms, entrenching need for environmental conservation. By ignoring environmental impacts in infrastructural work, we risk compromising our national heritage. Our foundation of defence is symbolised in the lions in the court of arms,” Kamau told Safari Njema.