More trouble brewing over the planned Lake Natron soda ash plant


(Posted 18th March 2014)

News about growing opposition to ongoing efforts by the Tanzanian government to, by hook or crook, start a soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron, have emerged.

From information received from Arusha it is clear that over the past year the National Development Corporation, a Tanzanian parastatal body, has been doing extensive exploration and extraction in the Engaruka area of the lake, with some locals suggesting this was done in the absence of an environmental impact assessment study and therefore in violation of local law.

Affected residents of the area last week held a press conference in Arusha where they complained that these activities constituted a threat to their survival as it affected water sources and destroyed the fabric of the surrounding land.

The plans date back for over a decade but initial choice partner TATA of India pulled out of the project when it became clear that they would have to fight global opposition to the plant, which was due to be built in the dead centre of the flamingo breeding grounds, the only such area in Eastern Africa where the birds come to lay their eggs in the mud plains, with the intense daylight heat helping to incubate the eggs.

Not deterred by scientific objections though did the Tanzanian government continue to push for the project to go ahead, including making plans to link the proposed extraction plant by road to the notorious Serengeti highway and a planned railway line from near Tanga to Musoma, which is supposed to be running through the area to facilitate the transport of soda ash to a port at the coast for export.

The latest exposure confirms that the Tanzanian government clearly has learned no lessons from this and other controversies and is ready to ride roughshod over their own people’s interests and demands.

There is talk that, should the pending decision on a permanent injunction against the Serengeti highway plans before the East African Court of Justice be successful, that another case may be brought vis a vis the Lake Natron plans to establish a soda ash extraction plant, as that too impacts on not just neighbouring Kenya but the entire Eastern Africa where the flamingo population could die out within the space of a decade if their breeding grounds were to be destroyed.

Watch this space for regular and breaking conservation news from across Eastern Africa.

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