(Reuters) – The World Bank has offered Tanzania an alternative to stop a major road project across the Serengeti national park that conservationists say threatens one of Africa’s biggest wildlife spectacles.
Conservation groups say the government’s planned highway through the northern edge of the Serengeti would hinder the annual migration of some 2 million wildebeest.
The World Bank’s John Murray McIntire said it was ready to help the east African nation in financing an alternative route for the road that would otherwise cut through the park.
“The World Bank is proposing alternatives that we believe will achieve Tanzania’s development objectives while preserving the unique character of the Serengeti as part of the world’s environmental heritage,” the World Bank country director for Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi, told Reuters in an emailed response to questions.
He said the World Bank could finance an alternative road through new development assistance to the country, dependent on officials making the request.
Tanzania’s tourism earnings jumped by 11.3 percent in 2010 to $1.28 billion, with the Serengeti attracting the biggest number of visitors among the east African country’s national parks.
International conservation groups such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London have campaigned to stop the construction of the highway, asking the Tanzanian government to consider other options.
President Jakaya Kikwete has defended his government’s plan, saying the project would not hurt the Serengeti.
He has rejected suggestions of a differing route, insisting that the government would proceed with plans to build an unpaved 54 km (33 mile) road to ease transport problems facing poor communities surrounding the park.
Scientists say that stopping the herds from reaching their traditional dry-season feeding grounds to the north of the park would lead to wildlife population crashes.