Africa’s population is exploding – expected nearly to quadruple this century, according to the United Nations. With that, comes an escalating need to improve food production and food security.
In addition, Africa today is experiencing a frenzy of mining activity, with most of the investment coming from overseas. China, for instance, is investing over US$100 billion annually, with India, Brazil, Canada and Australia also being big foreign investors.
To feed its growing population and move its minerals to shipping ports for export, Africa needs better roads and railroads. When located in the right places, improved transportation can do a lot of good.
When located in areas with high environmental values, new roads or railroads can open a Pandora’s box of problems.
Roads slicing into remote areas can lead to range of legal and illegal human land uses. For instance, in the Amazon, 95% of all deforestation occurs within five kilometres of a road; and for every kilometre of legal road there are three kilometres of illegal roads. In the Congo Basin, forest elephants decline sharply, and signs of hunters and poachers increase, up to 50 kilometres from roads.
In the wrong places, roads can facilitate invasions of natural areas by illegal miners, colonists, loggers and land speculators. There’s no such thing as a free ride. For Africa, the dangers of the development corridors are profound. Even if well executed, the researchers estimate that the current avalanche of corridors would slice through over 400 protected areas and could easily degrade another 2,000 or so. This bodes poorly for Africa’s wildlife and biodiversity generally.