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Tanzanian government plan for soda ash plant in conflict with international commitments

11-May-2011

Wetlands International is very concerned about the renewed plans by the Tanzanian government to mine for soda ash in Lake Natron. The plan to mine at this very precious but vulnerable lake conflicts with the government’s international commitments and could cause the loss one of Africa’s most important Wetlands of International Importance, being the only breeding site of the East-African population of Lesser Flamingo.  

Wetlands International is shocked to see the plan resurrected, after it was abandoned in 2008 due to concerns from Tanzania's own National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) that mining would adversely impact the ecology of Lake Natron and its high importance for biodiversity; e.g. 75% of the global population of the Lesser Flamingo depends on this site.

 

The Lake Natron Basin – being part of the Serengeti ecosystem - was listed as Tanzania’s second Ramsar site in 2001. The 58 x 15 km lake which is only 0.5 – 2 m deep was nominated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands as a representative example of a Rift Valley soda lake in East Africa. 

Recommendations to Tanzanian Government

 

In 2008, a Ramsar Advisory Mission recommended the Tanzanian government to suspend the decision-making process on the current Environmental and Social Impact Assessment as it does not deal with the full scope of the project’s impact. Furthermore, the Mission recommended that the government should consider completing the development of the Tanzanian Wetland Strategy and other policy frameworks before taking any decisions on the soda ash project. However, the recent announcements of the representatives of the Tanzanian government indicated that the project would go ahead regardless of objections.

 

Obligations under the Ramsar Convention

 

It is not surprising that the case of Lake Natron attracts so much international attention. As a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Tanzanian government has committed itself to the wise use of wetlands in its territory. By nominating Lake Natron as a Wetland of International Importance, i.e. as a Ramsar site, it has also undertaken to formulate its planning so as to promote the conservation of such wetlands.

Other international commitments

Tanzania has also committed itself to collaborate with other countries on the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats under the framework of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and under the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA). The CMS/AEWA Single Species Action Plan for the Lesser Flamingo specifically requests that all key breeding and feeding sites are maintained in good ecological condition, including hydrological conditions and water quality for the species, whilst ensuring that breeding colonies of the species are not disturbed. A soda ash plant would require huge quantities of water, which would adversely affect the hydrology of the lake. Furthermore, mining operations are expected to increase the disturbance of breeding birds.

Lake Natron: ecologically unique

Lake Natron is the only breeding place of the East-African population of the Lesser Flamingo, Phoeniconaias minor, a species categorized as Near Threatened under the Red List criteria of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Over half a million of these flamingos, representing 75% of the global population, along with enormous numbers of many other waterbird species, use Lake Natron. This makes it one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles and one of the key tourist attractions in northern Tanzania and Kenya. Hence, the welfare of lesser flamingos is not just a local conservation issue, but also a transboundary economic issue.

Besides the Lesser Flamingo, Lake Natron hosts nearly 70% of the East-African subspecies of Chestnut-banded Plover Charadrius pallidus venestus, another Near Threatened bird species. In addition, the lake is home to a fish and algae species, which do not occur anywhere else on Earth.

Call to the Tanzanian Government

Wetlands International calls for recognition of the unique value of the site and urges the government to respect its international obligations and to follow the recommendations of the Ramsar Advisory Mission to develop a truly sustainable development plan for the area and to avoid any adverse effect on the Lake, the livelihood of surrounding communities and its unique biodiversity. 

For more information:

Fatima Sow

fsow @ wetlands.sn

Tel. + 221 33 869 16 81

Alex Kaat

alex.kaat @ wetlands.org

Tel. +31 6 50601917

 

Szabolcs Nagy

szabolcs.nagy @ wetlands.org

Tel. +31 318 660935

 

 

Information sources:

 

 

Press contact

Press can contact:

Ms. Ytha Kempkes
Communications and Advocacy Manager
Tel. +31 (0)318 660933
Email: ytha.kempkes@wetlands.org

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