Damming the Serengeti


Serengeti Watch has been watching with increasing concern plans to a build a series of dams upstream of the Mara River, a project that would leave the Serengeti in ruins. It would be even more damning than the proposed commercial highway across the Serengeti.

The Mara River is the lifeblood of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. The great herds of wildebeest and zebra depends on it for water during their annual migration. Already impaired by climate change, if the Mara River dries up, it will end the migration as we know it.

Yet astonishingly, Kenya’s Water Resource Management Authority has proposed a water allocation plan that would do just that. A series of seven dams, beginning in Kenya’s major water catchment, the Mau Forest, and continuing downstream, would siphon off water from the Mara River for irrigation.

We have been following this for several months. Now, in a journal article just published by Cambridge University Press, “The Serengeti will die if Kenya dams the Mara River,” experts again warn that this series of ill-conceived dams in Kenya will bring devastation to the Serengeti ecosystem in both Kenya and Tanzania. One of its authors has described this as “eco-engineering at its worst.”

The Mara River depends on Kenya’s Mau Forest highlands, a major water catchment area. Already there has been destruction of this forest, and plans for dams there would cause more damage. Downstream from the Mau Forest, more dams are proposed that would divert water for irrigation and effectively dry up the Mara River during times of drought.

One study projected that if the Mara dried up, there would be a mortality of 30% in the wildebeest population each week. Whatever the level of mortality, it would be a disaster.