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Lake Natron local people reject proposed soda ash development

Like taking a fish and throwing it into the bush…

Local people from Lake Natron voiced their concerns at a public hearing held on 24 January to the proposed soda ash plant there which would threaten the world's largest population of Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor.

“There is no need to accept a project that will later destroy us”, said the traditional chief from Pinyinyi, one of the villages adjacent to Lake Natron. He likened the development to "taking a fish and throwing it into the bush".

About 80-100 people, including representatives from communities from around the lake, attended the meeting in Dar es Salaam Tanzania and convened by the National Environment Management Council of Tanzania (NEMC). There was strong opposition to the proposed development. People representing local communities from around the lake lamented the lack of consultation in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment. They think that the proposed factory would not deliver jobs for themselves as the plant would need educated and skilled workers. They fear that instead it would endanger employment gained from tourism which benefits many locals, including women who make and sell beadwork. This meeting added further opposition to the development which the BirdLife International Partnership has been working against over the past six months.

“We strongly believe that the cumulative impacts from the proposed facility have a high risk of causing extreme detriment to the Lesser Flamingo population should the project be allowed to be developed in Lake Natron area” said Mr. Lota Melamari, the CEO of WCST (BirdLife in Tanzania) at the public hearing.

The Lake Natron Consultative Group, which the BirdLife Africa Partnership is part of, rejected the project at the hearing.“The local community will lose their sources of livelihoods owing to over-use of water by the factory and their livestock economy risks being destroyed; but what will they get in return?” The Group insist that the best way to use the natural resources of Lake Natron is to enhance ecotourism which is already thriving.Many other stakeholders, including the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania, the Lawyers Environmental Action team, the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators and the Ilkisongo Pastoralists Initiative, oppose the development. A fine artist based in Arusha said he was willing to compensate Government with proceeds from his sale of paintings of Lesser Flamingos.

In a further recent development, WCST with representatives from the BirdLife International Secretariat and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife in the UK) briefed 22 of the 29 members of the Tanzania Parliamentary Committee on the Environment on Lake Natron. “This information will help us as we seek to understand the whole project and its implications and how to advise Government on the way forward” said the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee. The Committee also hopes to go to the site before giving their submissions to Parliament.

“Its our sincere hope that our Government will carefully analyse and hear all interested and affected stakeholders views before making a final decision on this issue” said Lota Melamari, CEO of WCST.

4th July 2014