Lake Natron Faces Renewed Threat from Soda Ash Mining

BirdLife has learnt that a Tanzanian Government Agency is seeking to buy mining equipment for large-scale soda ash extraction from Lake Natron - the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor [Near Threatened] in the world. "This is worrying indeed", said Lota Melamari - the CEO of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST-BirdLife in Tanzania).

"An advert for the supply of mining equipment, and a recent announcement of the expansion of the railway and building of new port at Tanga to handle soda ash all point to deliberate efforts to keep alive the intention of mining Lake Natron's soda ash", added Lota Melamari.

BirdLife's Think Pink Campaign reports that the Tanzania Investment Centre, a Tanzanian Government Agency, is inviting interested parties to quote for the "Supply of machinery and equipment, as well as trucks in a greenfield soda ash/caustic soda processing plant". The advert was placed on behalf of KDCL Minerals (T) Ltd - a private company which states that the $US 125 million project at Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania will produce approximately 200,000 tonnes of soda ash annually.

Three-quarters of the world's population of Lesser Flamingo live in East Africa - and all depend on Tanzania's Lake Natron as a breeding site. The development and associated infrastructure could permanently prevent the birds from nesting at Lake Natron, spelling doom for the region's spectacular flamingo flocks.

In opposition to development proposals of 2007, BirdLife launched its 'Think Pink' campaign. At the same time the Lake Natron Consultative Group - a coalition of 49 mainly African institutions - was formed to urge the Tanzanian Government to abandon the project.

"Through campaigns like Think Pink, the world, local communities, Tanzanian NGOs and ordinary citizens have said a big 'No' to the project - this will not change", warned Ken Mwathe of BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat and Coordinator of Lake Natron Consultative Group.

Earlier plans for mining Lake Natron involved Tata Chemicals Ltd. and the governmental National Development Corporation. BirdLife welcomed the withdrawal last year of an initial, inadequate and inappropriate Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), and is awaiting a new ESIA to be produced and reviewed by a competent team of experts. "The Tanzanian Government has promised, and consistently maintained, that no new ESIA would be conducted before having in place an Integrated Management Plan for the Lake Natron Ramsar Site, and this process is still ongoing", concluded Lota.

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