Tanzania is pushing ahead with the construction of a soda-ash factory near the Lake Natron despite opposition from environmentalists.
Trade and Industry Minister Cyril Chami said the state is in talks with India’s Tata Chemicals Ltd to set up the $450 million soda ash at Engaruka area, approximately 50km north-east of Lake Natron.
Engaruka is part of a fragile Lake Natron Basin, listed as a Ramsar Site.
Environmentalists argue the construction of the factory will affect the habitat of the lesser flamingos and other, rare flora and fauna. Flamingos, one of the world’s rare species, breed in Lake Natron.
The project stalled for nearly five years, in the tussle pitting the government and environmentalists, but the former seems eager to make the project a reality.
Dr Chami said that the state would hold a 46 percent shares through the National Development Corporation, if a consensus is reached with Tata chemicals.
Recently, Tanzania discovered approximately 460 billion cubic litres of soda ash at the Engaruka area, 50 kilometres from Lake Natron in northern Tanzania.
According to the minister, soda ash has the characteristic of multiplying at 4 million cubic litres per year, meaning that its cubic reserves keep growing.
Green activists have since 2007 been making a campaign across the globe to stop Tanzania’s plan that threatens the East Africa’s only remaining significant breeding site for the Lesser Flamingos.
They warn that the proposed plant could wipe out the breeding ground of this near threatened species - thus putting at risk 75 per cent of the global Lesser Flamingo population.
President Jakaya Kikwete has been pushing for the establishment of a factory, arguing the plant would be a boost to the economy.
“Experience shows that the excavation can be done without any harm to the eco-system,” he said, ruling out green activists’ argument that the plant will wipe out the flamingos.
“What matters is the application of environmentally friendly technology to avoid disrupting flamingo breeding sites,” he said.