- Villagers around Tanzania’s Lake Natron have vowed to protect the lake and its treasure of Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor from industrial development, pointing out that their own future depends on the sustainable use of the lake.
The Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST), has put forward an alternative to the environmentally destructive soda ash extraction plant proposed for the lake, calling instead for its unmatched tourism potential to be developed, and for the people of Lake Natron to be enabled to benefit from the income generated.
Three-quarters of the world’s Lesser Flamingo population lives in East Africa, and Lake Natron is by far their most important breeding site. In 2007, the Indian-based multinational company, Lake Natron Resources Ltd., proposed to build a major soda ash extraction plant to exploit the very alkaline water of the lake.
Breeding flamingos are very sensitive to disturbance, and quickly abandon their breeding effort. The proposed soda ash plant could, therefore, jeopardise Lesser Flamingo breeding in East Africa. The Lake Natron flamingos are one of the highlights of East Africa’s wildlife tourism industry, which contributes 12-16 percent of East Africa’s Gross Domestic Product.
Tata appears to have withdrawn its interest following a successful appeal against an inadequate Environmental Impact Assessment by the Lake Natron Consultative Group, a coalition of community and environmental groups including BirdLife Partners.
But earlier this year BirdLife learned that the Tanzanian government had published invitations to tender for soda extraction equipment, and plans an extension of the rail network to link Lake Natron to the port of Tanga. The government subsequently denied being responsible for the invitations.
Speaking at a meeting organised by WCST at Ngare Sero village, a Maasai elder, Lasoi Ole Nareshoi, said: “God gave us this resource for use by ourselves, our children and children’s children. We will protect it from any industrial exploitation that may chase away the flamingos and damage the environment. “No one can take the Lake Natron away from us,” he added.
Speaking at the same meeting, the Chairman of Ngare Sero Village, Christopher Ndurway, recalled how in January 2008 a community delegation from Lake Natron rejected the soda ash plant at a public hearing organised by the National Environment Management Council in Dar es Salaam.
“We said ‘No’ in Dar es Salaam in 2008 and that stand remains. We stand to gain more by conserving this lake and its resources and using it sustainably for many years to come. A soda ash factory is of no use to us,” Mr Ndurway said.
Paul Nnyiti, WCST’s Forest Governance Project Coordinator, said the time had come for stakeholders and the government to come to the assistance of the Lake Natron community so that they can benefit from tourism.
“Lake Natron is now known the world over. We invite the government and development partners to join us in opening opportunities to benefit local communities by developing the Lake’s immense tourism potential, which is currently under-utilised,” said Mr Nnyiti.
Ken Mwathe of the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat, who is the Coordinator of the Lake Natron Consultative Group, said that although the soda ash mining plans have been put on hold, stakeholders remain worried that the plans have not been abandoned. “It is time everyone accepted the need to shelve these plans once and for all,” he said, adding, “The future of the local communities lies in exploiting Lake Natron’s natural beauty and not the soda ash. We all need to move on”.
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