THE government has warned that Lake Natron must be preserved at all costs because of its rich biodiversity, which is a source of livelihood to local communities and lies on a major tourism circuit.
The remark was made by Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, Ms M. Tarishi during the opening of a workshop on Lake Natron's cost benefit analysis at the Utalii College in Dar es Salaam, earlier this week.
In a speech read on her behalf by Senior Game Officer of Wildlife Division Herman Kerario, Ms Tarishi said Natron is very important to Tanzania as it is a designated Ramsar Site. The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that was signed in Ramsar in Iran in 1971 and came into force in December 1975. This Convention provides a framework for international cooperation for the conservation of wetland habitats.
Globally, she said Lake Natron boasts the most important breeding site for lesser flamingos, an iconic species, which are increasingly facing threats that are human induced.For over 1.5 million flamingos, Lake Natron is their breeding ground and possible harm to the ecology of the lake is at the centre of the debate.
Conditions for flamingo breeding include seclusion from predators, human disturbance and availability of food and nesting material."Lake Natron is the only place, which provides all these factors in the East Africa," Ms Tarishi told the forum on September 25.She commended the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST) and Birdlife International for commissioning the cost benefit analysis report.
There is plan to mine soda ash from the lake, a project to be run by Tata Chemicals Limited in collaboration with the National Development Corporation. The analytical study focuses on chemical, ecology and hydrological dynamics of the lake. The study revealed that investment in soda ash production in Lake Natron area is being considered for extraction for a period of 50 years.
Opponents of the plan say the project will harm the ecological system of the lake, change its nature and cause the flamingos to migrate from the area.
Tanzania continued protection of Lake Natron was recognised in 2010 when the government received the World Wetlands Network Blue Globe Award in Nagoya, Japan.
The ministry said that the WWN cited the nation's commitment to support planning at landscape level, the promotion of Wildlife Management Areas, improved site management by posting a Ramsar Site Manager and completion of the lesser flamingo action plan.Lack of a cost benefit analysis has been a major gap in the Lake Natron debate.
"The value of the pride that we have as a country, the cultural sense and self-worth of the Maasai; the breathtaking sceneries of the Rift Valley and the debt to future generations cannot be monetized and may never be known," the permanent secretary warned, saying, "Therefore, if we lose Lake Natron, we may never truly know what we have lost."