PRESIDENT John Magufuli yesterday dismissed baseless claims that the government is not serious in conserving protected areas in the country.
Speaking here during the launch of Burigi-Chato National park, Dr Magufuli said the government has allocated 361,594 square kilometres as protected areas under different categories, making 32 per cent of the country's terrestrial land.
"It's not true that we don't take measures to preserve our environment, we have vast protected areas compared to any African country.
If environmental conservation was not our priority, we wouldn't have bothered to set aside such large area for the purpose," charged President Magufuli.
He added, "The commissioning of three new national parks is a proof that we value and protect the environment despite many people condemning us."
The president further belittled as unfounded claims of irreversible damages to Selous Game Reserve due to execution of Rufiji hydropower project, saying the project will cover only 1,350 square kilometres, a mere three per cent of the area's 45,000 square kilometres.
Dr Magufuli said in 2018, 1.49 million tourists visited Tanzania, generating 2.43 billion US dollars (over 5.4tri/-) for the economy, up from the 2.17 billion dollars (about 4.9tri/-) generated in 2017 from 1.33 million tourist arrivals.
The Stiegler's Gorge dam, which will equal in power generating capacity to the Egyptian Aswan High Dam, currently the largest in Africa, has been under discussion since the 1960s.
The present project started in August 2017, with the government inviting bidders. Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Hamisi Kigwangalla said the government was keen on protecting the environment, notwithstanding critics who have been vehemently opposing the project.
"For those who may not be aware, President Magufuli is the number one conservationist, we don't need anyone from outside Tanzania to teach us how to conserve our environment.
Some critics have been pushing the government to permanently abandon the project but that will not happen," he noted .
The minister further said the Rufiji project was designed during the first phase government but was not executed, saying the fifth phase government is determined to implement it.
Dr Kigwangalla cautioned environmental activists against interference to the project, saying the government applied to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to upgrade the reserve to the World Heritage Site, the power project included, and UNESCO approved it.
He said the Selous status will not be affected by the project execution. "This is our country, we understand the meaning of conservation and value it so much, we will do whatever we can to protect our country," stressed Dr Kigwangalla.
He said after adding the new parks to the current 16 national parks, Tanzania becomes the second tourist destination in Africa in ownership and management of national parks, trailing South Africa which leads with 22 tourist wildlife parks.
The park, close to Lake Victoria, on the border with Rwanda, is surrounded by Kagera River and Lake Burigi. The government established the national park as a game reserve in the 1970s and it was in May 2018, with four other reserves, promoted to national parks.
The five game reserves, which were upgraded to national parks, include Biharamulo, Burigi, Kimisi, Ibanda and Rumanyika part of the Western tourist circuit near the shores of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria.
Establishment of the new five parks brings to 60,000 the total square kilometres of wildlife protected parks under the trusteeship and management of Tanzania National Parks.