Tata Chemicals to go ahead with soda ash plant on Lake Natron despite opposition
Tanzania, Tata Chemicals to go ahead with soda ash plant on Lake Natron despite oppositionBy ADAM IHUCHA
Posted Monday, April 25 2011 at 00:00
Tanzania will proceed with its multimillion dollar soda ash plant on the pristine wetland and fragile Ramsar site of Lake Natron despite growing opposition from conservationists, the government has said.
The National Development Corporation (NDC) in partnership with Tata Chemicals Ltd of India seeks to construct a $450 million soda ash plant.
Soda ash, also chemically known as sodium carbonate is a widely used mineral and is a key raw material for the production of glass, chemicals and detergents.
Green activists have since 2007 been campaigning around the world to stop Tanzania’s plan, which they say threatens East Africa’s only significant breeding site for Lesser Flamingos.
They warn that the proposed plant could wipe out the breeding ground of these threatened species, thus putting at risk 75 per cent of the global Lesser Flamingo population.
Cyril Chami, the Minister for Industry and Trade, told The EastAfrican that plans to construct the soda ash factory are at an advanced stage but the government was still waiting for the feasibility study to be finalised by the end of the month.
Dr Chami said that even if the feasibility study won’t be in favour of the plans, the government will seek an alternative means to ensure the factory is built.
“When the factory becomes operational, we shall be able to process up to 500,000 tonnes of soda ash per annum,” he said.
President Jakaya Kikwete is also pushing for the establishment of the factory, arguing the plant will be a boost to the economy.
President Kikwete said that experience elsewhere shows that the excavation can be done without any harm to the eco-system, ruling out the Green activists’ argument that the plant will wipe out the flamingo population.
“What matters is the application of environmental-friendly technology to avoid disrupting flamingos breeding sites. Sometimes I doubt whether those who are opposing the plant are really patriotic, because it seems as if they are agents of some people we don’t know,” he said.
According to President Kikwete the government can’t keep on lamenting that the country is poor amid untapped mineral deposits.
“After all we are not going to be the first to harvest soda ash; our neighbour Kenya is doing the same on the other side of the lake,” said President Kikwete.
However, the head of state wants the NDC to build the factory some kilometres away from Lake Natron in order to avoid the noise and pollution which could upset flamingos’ breeding grounds, and use pipes to tap the soda ash and transport it to the plant.
Arpakwa O’LeSikorei a wildlife and community conservation specialist who has worked on several projects around Lake Natron since 2009 warns that any attempt to set up a soda ash plant will cause the flamingoes, which get their food in the shallow water to migrate.