TACKLING THE CHALLENGES OF LINEAR INFRASTRUCTURE IN AFRICA

The Standard Gauge Railway traversing the iconic Nairobi National Park

Wendy Collinson, Manager, EWT Wildlife and Transport Programme
wendyc@ewt.org.za

Wendy Collinson, EWT Wildlife and Transport Programme (WTP) Manager recently joined colleagues Lourens Leeuwner, EWT Wildlife and Energy Programme (WEP) Manager, and Constant Hoogstad, EWT Senior Manager: Industry Partnerships, in Kenya at a conference workshop co-hosted by the EWT, Ewaso Lions, the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Africa Conservation Centre, Centre for Large Landscape Conservation and the Development Corridor Partnership. The theme was Designing Linear Infrastructure for Sustainable Outcomes. Linear infrastructure concerns roads and rail, energy, power lines, canals, pipelines, and fences, and their impacts on the environment.

The three-day workshop, hosted in Nairobi, exposed delegates to the benefits of utilities and NGOs partnering together to work towards a common goal. Nearly 70 participants from five countries gathered for the workshop primarily to discuss solutions to advance ecologically-friendly linear infrastructure practices on the African continent.

Africa is currently experiencing an explosion of linear infrastructure development, with the number and extent of roads, railways, power lines and pipelines rapidly expanding. In order for this development to result in a net benefit to the economic and social well-being of Africa’s citizens, measures must be taken to ensure that transport and energy transmission infrastructure is carefully designed to avoid, minimise, and mitigate damage to the ecological and cultural resources on which both people and the economy depend. Workshop participants were from diverse backgrounds and represented a variety of stakeholders including industry practitioners, national infrastructure agencies, conservation and community groups, universities, and multilateral development finance institutions.

This inaugural engagement in Kenya is the start of a much bigger mission by both the WTP and WEP teams. One of Kenya’s current projects is the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor which comprises a complex suite of infrastructure projects intended to unlock the economic potential of oil and trade in the East Africa region.

As part of its plans under LAPSSET, the Government of Kenya is facilitating unprecedented and rapid investment in linear infrastructure in the arid and semi-arid lands of northern Kenya. The projects, in various stages of development, include highways, a standard gauge railway, a crude oil pipeline and a transmission line. These are being routed through the biodiversity-rich Ewaso Nyiro North Basin, a landscape renowned for its protected areas, community conservancies and endemic species.

Efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts of LAPSSET have highlighted the critical importance of building on existing county, project and stakeholder relationships to generate new forms of coordination for managing the Corridor’s complexity and an opportunity for the EWT to offer expert advice for intervention of the cumulative impacts, planning and implementation processes during the planning process.

Wendy also had an opportunity to visit a China-funded transport corridor, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that links Mombasa and Nairobi and eventually will continue further towards Uganda. This railway controversially traverses both the Tsavo and the iconic Nairobi National Parks. Various mitigation measures have been taken to lessen the impact on wildlife movements during the construction of the railway, but emerging linear infrastructure across Africa is expected to have major implications for future development and conservation at local to continental scales.

A final outcome of the conference was the announcement of the second African Conference for Linear Infrastructure and Ecology (ACLIE). With the inaugural ACLIE hosted in the Kruger National Park, South Africa 2019, this biannual conference will be hosted in Kenya in 2021. More details to follow, but the main aim of ACLIE is to mainstream business and biodiversity by setting up partnerships between local NGOs and utilities. Through this, we hope to promote sustainable development practices in Africa, with the ultimate goal of having wildlife friendly linear infrastructure networks across Africa.