Threat to the Integrity of Lake Natron, Community Livelihoods and Tourism in East Africa by the Prop
Threat to the Integrity of Lake Natron, Community Livelihoods and Tourism in East Africa by the Proposed Soda Ash Mining by Tata Chemicals Ltd.
A Press Statement by Lake Natron Consultative Group - http://www.youthfor conservation. org/news. asp?NewsID= 39
19th June 2007
The proposal by TATA Chemicals Ltd, through its subsidiary Lake Natron Resources (TZ) Ltd, to construct a soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron in Tanzania has come to our attention. TATA Chemicals Ltd, which also owns majority shares in Magadi Soda Company, has submitted to the Government of Tanzania plans to construct a processing plant capable of producing 500,000 metric tonnes of soda ash annually. The plant will have associated infrastructure, including a new 7-metre wide tarmac road, power plant, living accommodations for an estimated 1,225 construction workers and 152 permanent staff and their families. In addition, the plant will consume 11.5 megawatts of power, utilise 106,000 litres of fresh water per hour and release 10,000 litres of sewerage water per hour, among other potential pollutants.
We wish to inform the general public in Kenya and East Africa that Lake Natron and the surrounding rangelands are critical for conservation of biodiversity and sustenance of Maasai community livelihoods at the Kenya-Tanzania border area. Lake Natron is also a Ramsar Site, designated as such under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. Notably, the lake is unique as it is the only significant and regular breeding site for the majority of the East African population of the Lesser Flamingos, which accounts for 75% of the global population. Globally, Lake Natron is one out of five Lesser Flamingo breeding sites found in Africa and Asia. The Lake and its surroundings are also important for the local Maasai communities as the rangelands hold important wildlife species that include elephants, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest, besides supporting pastoralism, which is the main source of livelihood.
TATA Chemicals Ltd has been undertaking scoping for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in Tanzania and has subsequently submitted a document to the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) through Norconsult (TZ) Ltd as advertised in the Daily News of 1st November 2006. Further, Norconsult (TZ) Ltd contracted Norken (Kenya) Ltd to undertake an EIA scoping mission in Kenya early this year, the results of which have not been made available. We are also informed that later this month, TATA Chemicals and Norconsult plan to hold a stakeholder workshop in Dar-es-salaam to discuss the EIA report.
We, the undersigned institutions, would like to express our deepest concerns about the proposed project. A large scale project like the one proposed by Tata Chemicals is not appropriate for a fragile ecosystem like Lake Natron and the surrounding areas. It is our considered view that the impacts of such a project on biodiversity, community livelihoods, natural resources and tourism in the Eastern African region are going to be adverse, long term and irreversible and not subject to any form of mitigation.
We wish to voice our concerns as follows:
1. Impacts on Lesser Flamingos - Lesser Flamingos nest in locations that have minimal human interference, such as in the middle of vast salt flats protected by stable shallow flooding due to their sensitivity to disturbance during breeding. Scientific evidence shows that it takes very little disturbance to cause an entire breeding colony to abandon its breeding effort entirely. This can be caused by something as trivial as tourists overflying the nests to take photographs. Lake Natron has been such a successful breeding location for the Lesser Flamingos precisely because of its isolation from human disturbance and its perfect environmental conditions. The mining of soda ash from this lake is likely to gravely affect the breeding and hence survival of this species that is listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.
2. Impacts on tourism and national economies - The impacts of extinction of the Lesser Flamingos will be enormous and far reaching; it will lead to unprecedented damage to tourism industry, in the East African region. In 2006 Kenya earned Ksh. 62 billion (US $) from tourism revenue. It is also a well know fact that the tourism industry in Kenya's central rift is largely supported by the Rift Valley Lakes and the flamboyant flamingos, whose only breeding is now under threat. Furthermore, the proposed project goes counter to the proposal by South Rift Association of Landowners (SORALO), a coalition of 15 Maasai group ranches, to open up the Southern Tourism Circuit with a view to connecting Amboseli and Maasai Mara with support from the Kenya government and European Union through the Tourism Trust Fund (TTF).
3. Damage to local economies & livelihoods -- The proposed project will consume 106,000 litres of fresh water per hour. At this rate, the plant will consume 1,600,000 litres of water within 15 hours -- which is sufficient to meet a day's needs for the 40,000 livestock in Magadi division! Fresh water is extremely scarce in this area; coming from Ewaso Nyiro river System in Kenya and Pinyiny, Moinik and Ngare Sero rivers in Tanzania. Abstraction of such huge amounts of fresh water will therefore create a water crisis in the border area and deplete the resource from springs, rivers and wetlands. As things stand, there is no sufficient water supply to meet domestic, wildlife and livestock needs in the area and the proposed plant will completely destabilise any existing balance.
4. Degradation of the environment, natural resources and loss of conservation gains- It is expected that the proposed plant will lead to an influx of people; increased air and water pollution; general environmental degradation and permanent loss of pristine and wilderness nature of the land. For example, assuming road transport will be used, hauling the 500,000 tonnes of soda ash will require 70 twenty-tonne trucks per day! This affront will snuff out efforts by local communities to promote biodiversity conservation. A case in point are efforts by Shompole and Olkiramatian communities (which border Lake Natron) to set aside 20,000 hectares of their land as special conservation areas. These efforts will come to nought unless the Soda ash mining project is reconsidered.
5. Contravention of Ramsar Convention and other International Agreements -- The Republic of Tanzania is a signatory to various international conventions that do not seem to be taken into account in the proposed project. The key conventions are Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Action Plan of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and the Convention on the Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Implicit in all of these agreements, is the need to protect species and their habitats and more importantly, the need to seek consensus from neighbouring states in the management and development of shared ecosystems. We are gravely concerned that other East African states have not been consulted and involved in the proposal development process. The Ramsar convention advocates for parties to develop management plans for sites listed under its criteria and any development projects only implemented within the framework of such plans. As far as we know, the Republic of Tanzania has not developed a management plan for Lake Natron Ramsar Site.
6. Doubts about the EIA Process -- We are concerned that the Environmental Impact Assessment process has not been participatory. The proponent has not consulted with all interested and affected institutions, communities and individuals. Notable is the fact that the whole process is being undertaken in Tanzania by Norconsult (TZ). In Kenya, Norken Ltd was contracted to carry out a scoping exercise but the results have not been made available. Efforts to contact TATA Chemicals and Norconsult to obtain the project proposal, the scoping document and EIA study report have borne no fruit.
7. Past experiences with TATA Chemicals Ltd -- It is impossible not to think about TATA Chemicals Ltd projects elsewhere, especially the long term mining operations in Magadi, Kenya. A few years ago, the operations in Magadi were expanded by constructing a second plant. This construction was shrouded in secrecy, with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process ignoring most of the key stakeholders working in the area. Important issues such as water requirements seem not to have been thought through, and currently, part of the new factory has been shut down ostensibly due to acute shortage of water. On the same note, our efforts to trace the Environmental Audit report of the old plant from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA, Kenya) have been fruitless. We therefore have a strong basis for urging extreme caution based on previous experience.
In view of the above, we:
- Demand that TATA Chemicals Ltd and its, subsidiary Lake Natron Resources Ltd, permanently shelve their plans to put up a soda ash facility at Lake Natron.
- Appeal to the government of the Republic of Tanzania to withdraw its support of the project and fulfil its obligations as a signatory to various international agreements, notably, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
- Impress upon the Government of Kenya and other East African states (through their relevant Ministries) to take the necessary steps to ensure that the integrity of Lake Natron, community livelihoods and environment are safeguarded,
- Urge the East African Community, through its relevant sectoral committee, to intervene in this matter and live up to its objective of "Promotion of a sustainable growth and equitable development of partner states including rational utilisation of the region's natural resources and protection of the environment"
- Request donors who may be involved in funding TATA Chemicals to consider the adverse social, ecological and economic impacts associated with the proposed project. Consideration of whether they would like to be associated with the demise of one of the rarest bird species on earth is encouraged.
- Appeal to all environmental lobby groups, local communities in the border area and all people of goodwill in East African region and the world at large to join us as we raise our these serious concerns about the proposed project
Head of Ecology, African Conservation Centre.
Signed for and on behalf of the following institutions under the umbrella of Lake Natron Consultative Group:
African Conservation Centre (ACC)
Nature Kenya (NK)
East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS)
South Rift Association of Landowners (SORALO)
Kenya Wetlands Forum (KWF)
Youth for Conservation
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