16 May 2008

Tanzania: UK Activists Pile Pressure Against Soda Ash Project

Mwanza — A UK-based environment group has urged Tata Chemicals Limited of India and its Tanzanian partner, National Development Corporation (NDC), not to disturb Lake Natron area environment.

It said shifting the project 32 kilometre away from the lake would not mitigate the negative impact the project is likely to pose to lesser flamingos (phoeniconaias minor) and the local community.

"Birdlife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are of the view that Tata and NDC should abandon the project altogether," the activists said in a statement posted on the Birdlife International website.

The project's impact is not limited to operations of the plant alone, but the entire process of brine extraction, disposition of waste and processing, they explained.

They said intricate network of pipes and roads on the surface of the lake would affect the birds and the local communities just as it was the case with Lake Magadi in Kenya.

The activists join forces with the Lake Natron Consultative Group comprising 32 non-governmental organisations from across the eastern and the Horn of Africa, and US in opposing the project.

The NGOs argued in Nairobi, Kenya, a fortnight ago that the project would pose serious threat to the survival of the lesser flamingos and to the livelihood of pastoralist communities surrounding the lake.

Chief executive officer of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania Lota Melamari recently presented a strong case for the complete abandonment of the project.

Lake Natron's vast flocks of shimmering pink flamingos were one of the world's greatest attraction that should not be destroyed, Mr Melamari stressed.

Tourism services manager of the Tanzania Tourist Board, Ms Serena Shao, cautioned during a meeting in Dar es Salaam that Tanzania may not achieve its tourism targets if the key attractions are destroyed.

"The soda ash proposal must be critically analysed given Tanzania currently earns over one billion US dollars from tourism.

"The dream to attract one million tourists by 2010 may not be achieved if we damage key attractions at Lake Natron," she said.

The minister of State in the Vice-President's Office (Environment), Dr Batilda Burian, has also warned investors in Dar es Salaam early this month that unless fresh environment and social impact assessment report satisfied environment and social concerns, no approval would be granted.

"The new study must be preceded by the development of an integrated management plan for Lake Natron ramsar site, which would spell out future conservation and development agenda for the area," Dr Buriani said.

"We laud the minister's quick response and commend her for being responsive to stakeholders on this matter," the activists said in their statement .

There is no way a project of such magnitude could operate without permanently scarring the landscape and damage local people's livelihoods and biodiversity, especially the highly sensitive Lesser Flamingos, Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, the BirdLife International's regional director for Africa is quoted as saying on the website.

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