By Nicholas Komu, The Daily Nation
The government says it will go ahead with construction of a road through the Aberdare Forest linking Murang’a, Nyeri and Nyandarua counties, despite a decade-long debate on whether economic or environmental interest should take precedence in the project.
Despite concerns by conservationists that the project will degrade the environment, the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) says it will begin work on the 540 kilometre Mau Mau Road this month.
For over 10 years, the road’s viability has been at the centre of debate, with environmentalists arguing that it will do more harm than good.
KeNHA Central Regional Director Joseph Kaburia told the Nation that the project is set to begin. “The conceptualisation has been done and the project is ready to begin. This was a presidential directive and we are sure that consultations with all the relevant stakeholders were done,” engineer Kaburia said.
The project will cost an estimated Sh30 billion and will begin in Kiambu, linking Murang’a, Nyeri and Nyandarua around the Aberdare ranges.
It is projected to start at Gataka, then go through Kamahindu in Kiambu before cutting through Kigumo and Kangema in Murang’a County. It then passes through Kigumo to Kiambirui and Njabini in Nyandarua County and ends in Naivasha. It will traverse the Aberdare Forest connecting to Nyeri County through the controversial Ihithe-Aberdare Forest-Kahuruko-Ndunyu Njeru road.
At a time when environmental degradation is a global issue, the project has not only split public opinion, but also created a rift between the government agencies involved.
In 2009, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) refused to approve the Aberdare Forest-Kahuruko-Ndunyu Njeru road on the grounds that it would endanger the water tower.
The Aberdare Range serves as a major water tower in the Mt Kenya region, serving Nyeri, Kiambu, Murang’a and Nairobi counties. The forest is also home to the Aberdare National Park, which has been hard hit by poaching of elephants and the black rhino. The park has only six black rhino, and conservationists fear that the road could worsen the situation.
Local conservation group Rhino Ark Charitable Trust has been at the forefront in opposing the project, and wrote to KeNHA last year asking it to shelve it.
Meanwhile, there is disquiet in agencies like the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which stand to be affected by the project which will cut through the forest and the national park.
Sources within KFS say KeNHA did not consult them and is apparently relying on a 2009 assessment by Nema. A source said the road will open up the area to more encroachment, endangering the already fragile ecosystem.