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Cross-border resource corridors casting environmental threats in Africa

A total of at least 35 mega development corridors — a combination of construction of roads, railroads, port facilities and pipelines — are being proposed or are underway in Africa and are bringing great environmental challenges to local communities, according to Jonathan Hobbs, international network director for the extractives sector at the World Wildlife Fund.

Hobbs told delegates at the China Mining 2016 conference in Tianjin, China, on Sept. 24 that these corridors in Africa, with an estimated total length of more than 53,000 kilometers, could increase risks of habitat loss, leave remote and pristine wildness areas open to illegal or legal exploration, and downgrade or downsize protected areas.

These resource-based corridors in Africa aim to synchronize infrastructure developments in a bid to provide better transportation for industrial sites, mostly mines, according to Hobbs.

"If you have a project, a mine, particularly those low-cost commodities like iron ore or coal, [the corridors] are seen as opportunities to attract investments," Hobbs said.

While these unprecedented infrastructure expansion projects in Africa are causing great environmental concerns, Hobbs noted that the current industry downturn presented opportunities to address these challenges.

"Things have changed in the last few years. Investment in exploration is slowing down but infrastructure investments continue to increase in anticipation of price rises," he said.

He added that with better environmental assessment and planning, such resource corridors can also become platforms for more effective use of tools, such as strategic environmental assessment and transport planning, and for promoting low-carbon technology.

"The political and economic appeal includes attracting further investments, benefiting landlocked countries, promoting regional integration as well as private or public partnerships," he said.

Hobbs added that China's One Belt, One Road initiative, which covers more than 60 countries, can benefit from Africa's experience, as issues and challenges created by the establishment of African resource corridors are also likely to arise within the Chinese scheme.