- Nov 14, 2006
Dar annoys neighbours over $400m soda ash project
Hili ni la kwanza kumpa support EL maarufu (Richmondulian) hawa jirani wanajificha hawataki kuandika Kenya wanaandika East Africa tuwe macho na hawa vibaka ambao wanakumulika mchana kweupe.WILFRED EDWIN said:
Signs of a potentially damaging rift between the Tanzania government and its Eastern African neighbours are evident after Dar es salaam allowed the construction of a controversial multi-million dollar soda ash project at Lake Natron. Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia have protested that the project will do serious damage to the lakes eco-system and the surrounding rangelands. The lake is also an important part of Kenya and Tanzanias northern tourism circuit that cover the Masai Mara/Serengeti game reserves and Mt Kilimanjaro the highest mountain in Africa. The government is keen to let Lake Natron Resources Ltd, a joint venture company between Tata Chemicals Ltd of India and the Tanzania National Development Corporation (NDC) establish a $400 million soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron.
Tanzania is apparently focusing on the economic benefits of the projects, which it feels should supersede environmental concerns. A visibly angry Tanzania Prime Minister, Edward Lowassa recently told the Parliament that the government will proceed with the project irrespective of what its detractors say. Mr Lowassa said Kenya has its own soda ash plant, which ironically, was acquired by Tata Chemicals Ltd last year. But, when Tanzania starts discussing the construction of a similar plant in collaboration with Tata, we are told we are destroying the environment, he said. Last week the Press Secretary of the Prime Ministers Office, Said Nguba, confirmed that the governments position had not changed. The plant, which has the capacity of mining 500,000 tonnes of sodium carbonate each year will proceed as planned, he said.
Nguba added that the PMs office was not aware of any changes to the Environmental Impact Assessment. The Tanzania government says the deal for the construction requires the promoters to put up a new access road, power plant, railroad, pipeline grid and later a pipeline for fresh water across the lake, houses for an estimated 1,225 construction workers and 152 permanent staff and their families. But the Tanzania National Environment Council (NEMC) last Thursday called for an urgent meeting between environmentalists from the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST), and the BirdLife International and Tata Chemicals to review the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project.
Lota Melamari, co-ordinator of WCST told The EastAfrican that presently the government was in the process of reviewing the assessment to determine whether the project should proceed. He said it risked driving the worlds rarest bird the lesser flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) to extinction. Even minute changes in the habitat could disrupt breeding by the flamingos which are extremely sensitive to disturbances, he said. The Kenyan government is quietly opposing the plant saying Tanzania prevented it from building a dam on the river Ewaso Nyiro, the main freshwater source for the lake.
Tanzania protested loudly in 2003 over the construction of a $58 million Ewaso Ngiro water catchments to support more than 700,000 people through the Ewaso Ngiro North Development Authority (ENNDA). The project would have cut across several administrative units in four provinces and 12 districts. These were Nyeri, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Garissa, Mandera, Wajir, Meru Central, Meru North, Moyale, Nyandarua, Laikipia and Lorian. But the Tanzanian government would have none of it, saying it would have greatly damaged the salty lakes ecosystem. Uganda and Ethiopia have also opposed the project, arguing that it has the potential of destroying the tourism industry in the entire region. For the wider region, Lake Natron region is surrounded by the presence of thousands of flamingoes make it a key tourism attraction. It will also affect the regions indigenous Maasai community a semi-nomadic people who freely travel over the Kenyan-Tanzanian border in search of pastures for their livestock.
Environmental conservation societies have filed a petition with the Tanzanian government over the project. In a statement to The EastAfrican last week the environmentalists said that the EIA draft is inadequate and contains information that seems to be outdated on the proposed project. Environmentalists see the economic thinking behind the shift from synthetic soda ash production to natural soda extraction, which is cheaper, but are worried of the cost at which it comes. Soda ash making process involves pumping brine from the lake to a plant and then returning the depleted water to the lake. This could upset the lakes chemical composition. Norconsult A.S Norway Ltd and Norconsult (Tanzania) Ltd were engaged by the Tanzania government to conduct an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) study and presented a draft report to stakeholders for comments. The report was presented in a workshop in July 2007 in Dar es salaam and was subject of heated debate.
The lake spreads over 85,000 hectares on the floor of the Rift valley and has a shallow basin with no direct outlet, indicating that it could easily suffer accumulation of contaminants which will kill off the lesser flamingos, for which it is famed. Conservationists say the mining process will disturb the lakes chemical composition and affect the sensitive ecosystem that has been protected as a Ramsar site since 2001. But the Tanzanian government seems to have made up its mind to go ahead with the project. On August 1, the countrys National Development Corporation declared the project safe and said it will not have adverse impact on the lake and its environments. In addition, the areas are part of a bigger shared ecosystem with links to key protected areas in both Kenya and Tanzania which include Amboseli National Park and the Loita Forest.
In a rare show of solidarity, Tanzanias Opposition also came out strongly in support of the government. Chama cha Maendeleo na Demokrasias MP for Karatu constituency, Dr Wilbrod Slaa last July told The EastAfrican that the issue was of national significance and thus they backed the decision. Dr Slaa said that if the research done on the implications of building roads, an airport, hotels and the soda ash plant were correct, then the opposition parties fully supported the government.
The countries, which have so far signed the petition include Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Malawi, Ivory Coast, Sao Tome and Morocco.