Think Pink - save Africa's flamingos
Three-quarters of the world population of Lesser Flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) live and breed in East Africa. Majority depend on Tanzania’s Lake Natron as a breeding site. Food is plentiful, nesting sites abound – and above all, the lake is isolated from predator and human disturbance. There are also numerous fresh water springs accessible to the young birds.
Adult Lesser Flamingos with young chicks in Lake Natron. Photo: Sean Avery
The ‘Think Pink’ campaign begun after the Tanzanian Government and the Indian company Tata Chemicals Ltd put forward a proposal to build a large-scale industrial plant to extract soda ash from Lake Natron’s water, via a network of pipes across the surface of the lake. A new road and rail infrastructure would be built to serve the soda ash plant.
BirdLife International believes constructing the soda ash plant would disrupt and scatter the breeding of over 500,000 pairs of Lesser Flamingos which nest at Lake Natron. It takes very little disturbance to cause an entire breeding colony to abandon its nests!
As a result of the “Think Pink – Save Lesser Flamingos” campaign, combined efforts with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (rspb) and the Lake Natron Consultative Group (a coalition of 56 organisations which includes BirdLife), Tata Chemicals Industries withdrew from the project in 2008. However, the Government of Tanzania through the National Development Corporation maintains a keen interest to push the soda ash project ahead.
On these pages you will find everything you need to know about the soda ash proposal, its potential impact on the flamingos – and why the soda ash plant must not be allowed to go ahead.
For more information contact:
Ken Mwathe – Programme Coordinator, Policy and Advocacy, BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat P.O Box 3502 00100 Nairobi Kenya.
Telephone +254 (020) 2473259.
This is a chorological account of how the campaign to save Lake Natron has progressed since the soda ash plans came to light in November 2006.
- August: World Migratory Bird Day : Stakeholders pledge to protect Lake Natron. Also see Lake natron press stories.
May: The National Development Corporation initiates a new push for soda ash mining. Reports indicate there will be two factories build one at Engaruka and anther at Lake Natron producing 1.5 million tonnes of soda ash per year. Government claims studies have shown mining will have “no impact” on Lesser Flamingo breeding. BirdLife is gravely concerned by this assertion because, to the contrary, scientific studies have shown soda ash mining would wipe out Lesser Flamingos if allowed.Read more about NDC’s latest statements here.
Read BirdLife International’s response here.
March: Over 18,000 residents of Engaruka oppose new plans by the Government to mine soda ash at Engaruka, which is 40 kilometres from Lake Natron. The residents, through their representatives, issued a press statement in Arusha in March saying they had not been consulted during soda ash exploration. They expressed fear of loss of livelihoods, grazing land and environmental degradation if a soda ash factory was built.
Read more here.
- October: A new study commissioned by the Government of Tanzania shows mining of soda ash at Lake Natron would wipe away Lake Natron Lesser Flamingos. The study showed Lesser Flamingos use over 80% of the Lake, either for breeding, feeding or searching for fresh water to clean salt from feathers.
Read more here
- September: The Government of Tanzania announces that the Lake Natron area could potentially be a source of geothermal power. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Mr Eliakim Maswi, is quoted saying Lake Natron is among 50 locations in the country where studies are going on to identify geothermal potential. The interest in geothermal power was due to its reliability and sustainability, the government said. Studies are currently being carried out in collaboration with the Japanese Agency for International Corporation (JICA). Read more here.
- August: The government starts looking for consultants to carry out feasibility studies for Engaruka area of Lake Natron. NDC’s Corporate Affairs Manager Abel Ngapemba is quoted in the press saying the study would carry out an analysis of technical issues and social and economic viability of the project. The study would “appraise technological parameters and its economic and social viability”. Read more here.
National Development Corporation officials inspect a soda ash exploration site at Engaruka (Photo: NDC)
- July: The Government of Tanzania announces it was looking for investors willing to invest USD 500 million to kick start the Lake Natron soda ash plant.
- April: Tanzania re-ignites the soda ash mining debate by claiming that six companies had submitted bids to construct a factory at Lake Natron. This information comes to light at the same time with revelations on fresh soda ash exploration at Engaruka area which is 40 km from Lake Natron. On face value, the Engaruka exploration seems to be a government effort to identify an alternative to Lake Natron which has raised a lot of opposition from conservation organisations and local communities. Government officials claim large amounts of soda ash were recently discovered at Engaruka.
- February: Lake Natron continued to prove that it is the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos in the world. Between September 2012 and February 2013, over 200,000 young were hatched within a five month period. During this period, 175,000 eggs on nest cones were counted. Lake Natron is ideal for Lesser Flamingo breeding as it is isolated from predators and human disturbance, has abundant food and nest making material as well as numerous fresh water springs. Read more here.
- October: A case study detailing the Lake Natron advocacy campaign is produced. Titled: “Environmental Advocacy at Work: Lessons learnt from the campaign to save Lake Natron from plans to build a soda ash plant”. A case study detailing the Lake Natron campaign is available here
Children at Magadini Primary School, Lake Natron, bring in water to school for preparing lunch. BirdLife is constructing a fresh water point for the school and the local community. (Photo: Ken Mwathe)
- August: A new Cost Benefit Analysis report shows that the mining of soda ash at Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania is not economically viable. The report states that the projected return on investment over the next 50 years for the soda ash factory would be a loss of between $44,354,728 and $492,142,797, even if exempted from paying tax by the Government. The study commissioned by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST- BirdLife in Tanzania) with funding from A.V Jensen Charity Foundation also shows that the Tanzanian public and local communities stood to gain between $1.28 and $1.57 billion in 50 years, if the Government of Tanzania invests in tourism, protection of the environment and promotion of local livelihood alternatives. Compared to soda ash mining, the people and environment would still tap greater benefits even if the Government continued managing and investing in the environment at current levels (business as usual). Read more here.
- During a stakeholders meeting at Utalii College in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to disseminate the report, participants approved the report and said tourism should be promoted at Lake Natron rather than soda ash mining. The local community said they would not accept a project that would damage tourism.
Read the full story here.
Local community leaders at Lake Natron have rejected the soda ash plan (Photo: Ken Mwathe)
The meeting and the Cost Benefit Analysis report received wide media coverage:
- Mwananchi newspaper (Tanzanian)
- Daily News newspaper online (Tanzanian)
- Regionally, The EastAfrican newspaper.
- BirdlIfe and The Royal Society for the Protection Bird (RSPB) wrote the story on their community webpages:
- June: The Tata Group denied any involvement in plans to mine soda ash at Engaruka area near Lake Natron. The former Minister of Trade and Industry Mr. Cyril Chami had said in March 2012 that the Tanzania Government was talking to Tata Chemicals Ltd to set up a $450 million soda ash factory in the Engaruka area, which is part of the Lake Natron basin. The factory would exploit 460 billion cubic litres of newly discovered soda ash and if the Tata deal went through, the Government of Tanzania would hold 46 percent shares through the National Development Corporation. Read more here.
- In a written denial dated 27th June 2012, Tata said it was no longer involved in any developments at Lake Natron and had no intention of going back there. The Managing Director of Tata Chemical Industries, Mr. R. Mukundan, wrote: “I would like to reiterate that as an outcome of a detailed business review Tata Chemicals formally exited the Lake Natron Development project on 29th January 2009 and all relevant stakeholders appropriately informed. Tata Chemicals has not been involved with the Lake Natron project since that time and we are unaware of any current developments.” We would like to salute Tata for this definitive stand. We also urge the Tanzanian Government to withdraw the soda ash proposal in its entirety. The Government owes it to the international community to honour the pledge it made, to protect and conserve Lake Natron, when it received the WWN Blue Globe Award in December 2010.
Read more here: Birdlife News.
- January: The East African Trans-boundary Ecosystems bill was passed on 31st January 2012. The piece of legislation provides a legal framework that will streamline the management of trans-boundary ecosystems in East African countries, which are: Tanzania, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Within its framework, Environmental Impact Assessment is required for projects that have impacts to the countries within the East Africa Community (EAC), making it mandatory for countries to consult and share information. Projects of a trans-boundary nature such as the proposed Lake Natron soda ash plant and the Serengeti Highway by Tanzania would now be subjected to thorough vetting. Read more here.
- December: News came through that the Chinese had joined the massive infrastructural development involving construction of a major railway with a link to Lake Natron. The Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Tanzania and Uganda to construct a railway from Tanga Port to Musoma, which would proceed to Kampala through a rail ferry in Lake Victoria. The Tanzanian transport Minister, Mr. Mfutakamba, stated that, once the railway was completed it would have branches that lead to Lake Latron for soda ash collection – something which was in the initial soda ash proposal by Tata Chemicals Ltd. The entry of the Chinese is of great concern and environmental groups would be following this development closely.
Read more here.
- November to December: The implementation of the Lake Natron Conservation Project funded by A.V Jensen Charity Foundation was in full gear. Some of the highlights were:
- Two local community groups comprising of 100 members were formed at Ngare Sero and Pinyinyi villages to help protect and conserve Lake Natron. One other group is under formation at Magadini.
- The local community started constructing a Cultural boma (home). The boma comprises of 21 traditional Maasai huts, an office and beads sale area as well as a traditional cattle pen. This will serve as a tourist attraction and will earn income first to the women of Lake Natron and the rest of the community
- Two other livelihoods projects were identified at Pinyinyi and Magadini villages. A campsite will be constructed at Pinyinyi while fresh water will be pumped to Magadini village. Magadini village does not have a single drop of fresh water and school pupils have to fetch salty water for preparing food before starting lessons. This project will change the lives of the over 2,000 residents of Magadini by providing fresh water supply.
- To build the capacity of the local community to manage ecotourism projects, a learning visit was organized to Ngorongoro Conservation Area. During the visit, the women/men learnt how to make and add value to beadwork and good book keeping.
- October: Tanzania’s Director of Environment, Dr Julius Ningu told National TV (TBC) and The Guardian newspaper in Dar es Salaam that the Lake Natron the soda ash mining proposal may not be approved. Dr Ningu who works in the Vice President’s said “The government position for this particular site is to maintain ecological system so that flamingos continue to breed for the benefit of natural vegetation at the area, that is why we have prohibited any human activities at the area.”Dr Ningu further said benefits from conserving the natural resources would outweigh those of soda ash mining, adding: “When we talk of sustainable use of natural resources, we mean for the benefit of current and future generation, now extraction of soda ash for sure can’t be beneficial to the future generation.”
For more details click here.
- In August, The National Environment Management Council (NEMC) gave a strong hint that the soda ash project may face serious approval hurdles. In spite of the recent calls by the President to fast track the project, NEMC said it has not granted the necessary authorizations, including project Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the project. A statement from the Head of Environmental Impact Assessment at NEMC said that the Government had an obligation to make available specific information such as hydrological data and a management plan, if they wish to undertake development in the area. NEMC said apart from the ESIA, the investor is required to come up with other studies to support the ESIA. These include the ecological aspects of flamingo breeding, water chemistry, hydrology and the impacts and mitigation measures of the proposed establishment.
For more details click here.
- In July, The World Wetland Network (WWN) wrote to the President of the Republic of Tanzania following renewed calls for fast tracking of soda ash mining at Lake Natron. WWN’s Chris Rostron said Lake Natron was the breeding site for three-quarters of the world’s Lesser Flamingo population, saying a soda ash plant would “detrimentally affect this critical breeding site and could have serious impact on the Lesser Flamingo Population”
- In May, BirdLife International wrote to Hindustan National Glass and Industries (HNG) seeking clarification on its intentions on Lake Natron. Information indicated that HNG was interested in requesting a permit from the Tanzania Government to build the soda ash plant. In his letter, the BirdLife CEO Dr Marco Lambertini pointed out that a soda ash facility at the lake, however carefully designed “has the potential to destroy the East African Lesser Flamingo population through disrupting the birds’ breeding as a result of increased disturbance and changes in the water balance and chemistry of the lake.” “The risks are so serious that it remains BirdLife International's view that a soda ash extraction plant must not be built”, concludes the letter.
In May, the name of Hindustan Glass and Industries (HNG) was mentioned as the company interested in mining soda ash at Lake Natron in collaboration with the Tanzania Government, following the withdrawal of Tata in 2008. It became clear that HNG, which is based in Kolkota in Eastern India, is the largest container glass packaging manufacturer in India. HNG has six manufacturing facilities dotted around India. Some of the notable HNG’s clients include Unilever, Cocacola, Nestle, Pfizer and Pepsi.
On 2nd April, the President of the Republic of Tanzania, H.E Jakaya Kikwete ordered the Ministry of Industry and Trade to fast track the implementation of the Lake Natron soda ash Project. The Tanzanian press quoted the President saying that the country would not continue reeling in poverty "while our minerals are lying untapped" adding "with harvesting at Lake Natron, we will not be the first to do so, because our neighbours, Kenya, are doing the same on the other side of the lake", He said there was no need for further delay since "experience has it that excavation can continue without any disruptions to the ecosystem." The new development is a source of serious concern since it was only in October 2010 when Lake Natron was awarded the inaugural World Wetlands Network’s Blue Globe Award. On receiving the award it was incumbent upon the Government of Tanzania to ensure that best practice on lake is maintained - and that would not include mining of soda ash mining as it would disrupt the integrity of the ecosystem as well as local community livelihoods. The proposal to locate the factory away from the lake is not new. It was put forward by the initial investor, Tata, in 2008 and rejected by stakeholders – since the raw material would still be got from the lake, thus interrupting the Flamingos which are very sensitive to disturbance during breeding.
An elder expresses his views on Lake Natron during a community meeting. (Photo: Ken Mwathe)
- In December, the Lake Natron Consultative Group held its Strategy Meeting in Nairobi with attendance from WCST and Ilkisongo Pastoralist Initiatives (IPI) in Tanzania; Nature Kenya; BirdLife Africa Secretariat Staff and South Rift Association of Landowners (Soralo). The meeting evaluated the achievements of 2010 which included keeping the campaign alive and, for the first time, initiating site level activities to enhance the protection of Lake Natron. The Strategy for 2011 will involve ensuring that the Project is implemented successfully in collaboration with all players.
- In October, Lake Natron was awarded the Blue Globe Award at a colourful ceremony during the CBD COP 10 meeting held in Nagoya, Japan. The prestigious award was given in recognition of recent efforts to improve the management by, among other things, posting of a Ramsar Site Manager by the Wetlands Unit, posting of a Site Conservation Manager by Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST-BirdLife in Tanzania), the development of an Integrated Management Plan and establishment of two Wildlife Management Areas and the completion of a Single Species Action Plan. The Award was received by Eng Bonventure Baya on behalf of the Government of Tanzania. In his thank you speech, he said that the Award was both a challenge as well as an encouragement to work harder at protecting the Lake. A couple of other wetlands across the world received Green (Restored Wetland) and Grey (Wetland in Danger) Awards.
- In September, the BirdLife Africa Partnership in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife in UK), initiated the Africa Site Casework for Emergency Threats Taskforce (ASCET). ASCET will spearhead the analysis of emergency threats facing African sites (especially Important Bird Areas) and will on a prioritized basis identify those that need emergency intervention in terms of advocacy and management actions. ASCET has already had three meetings and has been endorsed by the Africa Regional Committee, a major decision-making organ of BirdLife in Africa.
- BirdLife International congratulated the Government of Tanzania for the award to Lake Natron and noted recent developments to improve management of the lake. Ken Mwathe, who spoke on behalf of BirdLife, said more than ever, there was need for stakeholders to ensure that the integrity of Lake Natron and the honour from the new award are maintained. Link to full story here.
- In September, it became clear that the National Development Corporation (NDC) of Tanzania was working behind the scenes to try and justify the Lake Natron Soda ash project. NDC had commissioned a team of consultants from the University of Dar es Salaam (University Consultancy Bureau) to identify "what has been documented and what gaps exist that need to be filled before further work is done". Inquiries revealed that that the consultants were actually gathering data and information which would form the basis for another round of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment. However, the letter introducing the team stated the assessment “is not about an Environmental Impact Assessment or any assessment related to the Soda Ash project." This development raised questions and suspicion among conservation organisations.
- In August and November, WCST appointed a Policy and Advocacy Officer and Site Conservation Officer, respectively, to support conservation work at Lake Natron. The Policy and Advocacy Officer will take the lead in the advocacy work at National and site level while the Site Conservation Officer will coordinate project activities at site level, in collaboration with stakeholders.
- In June, the A.V Jensen Foundation provided funds to the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat for a two year project to support conservation activities at Lake Natron. The project, which would be implemented by Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania) would focus on strengthening a local community conservation group known as “Site Support Group”; initiating livelihoods projects to benefit the local communities and kick starting a monitoring programme using the Important Bird Area model. The project would also support the preparation of various plans such as the Integrated Management Plan and Lesser Flamingo Single Species Action Plan. Through the project, ways of enhancing the protection status of Lake Natron would be explored. On the Kenyan side, Nature Kenya would be supported to lead a process of listing the Lake Natron portion in Kenya as a Ramsar site.
- In May, new information on the possible revival of the soda ash plant plans at Lake Natron, were received. Tanzania’s National Development Corporation (NDC), the Government agency which developed the initial proposal with Tata Chemicals Industries, was still keen ensure that the soda ash plant project goes ahead. NDC had commissioned a hydrological study that was meant to justify that there was sufficient water to allow soda ash mining. The hydrological study would feed into a new Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Report which could lead to possible renewal of the Lake Natron soda ash project. Stakeholders were monitoring these developments keenly.
- In May, the Tanzanian Government organised a meeting to discuss the process of creating two Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) at Lake Natron involving Longido and Ngorongoro districts. In so doing, the local communities will be empowered and stand to benefit from participating in the management of the resources within the ecosystem. Stakeholders meeting in Arusha discussed how a strategy document will be developed showing how the WMA process will evolve. BirdLife, WCST and the Lake Natron Consultative Group have been calling for an all inclusive process.
- On 9th February, the Lake Natron Consultative Group held a Strategy Meeting at Nature Kenya to evaluate the 2009 Strategy and chart the way forward for 2010. Among other things, the 2010 strategy will maintain Lake Natron's presence in the media, work to establish a community livelihood project at Lake Natron and provide support for local level planning. The Lake Natron Consultative Group had grown from just 5 institutions in 2007, when it was formed to oppose the contruction of soda ash factory at LakeNatron, to 51. In 2010 The Group will e strengthened even further will continue to highlight threats facing other threatened ecosystems inAfrica.
- In November, the Lake Natron Community renewed their resolve to protect Lake Natron against any form of industrial development. The community led by one of their elders at Ngare Sero Village declared "Lake Natron belongs to us, our children and our childrens children. No one can take it away from us". Through this declaration, the community re-affirmed their commitment to continue protecting the lake and its resources, including the flamingos for their benefit, now and in future. (Read more)
- Between November and December 2009, the Kenya Government was in the process of evicting squatters who were residing in Mau Forest for the last one decade thus causing immense destruction. Mau Forest is one of the biggest "water towers" in Kenya and is the source of Ewaso Nyiro South River, which feeds Lake Natron. The eviction of the squatters was vital since the forest provides economic benefits and is a source of livelihoods for millions of people in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan and even Egypt. Without it, Lake Natron and its function as a breeding site for Lesser Flamingos would cease. The Government plan was faced with much resistance but it seemed determined to proceed with the evictions.
In September, the Lake Natron community vowed to protect Lake Natron and its resources from any industrial development. A Maasai Elder Lasoi Ole Nareshoi said “God gave us this resource for use by ourselves, our children and children’s children” adding “No one can take the Lake Natron away from us”. This happened at a meeting organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania to discuss the formation of a local community group to support conservation and development in the area. The meeting was attended by WCST staff Paul Nnyiti, Cosmas Nguya and Kyonjola Nsanjigwa and Ken Mwathe of BirdLife Africa Secretariat.
In September, the Government of Tanzania through the Tanzania Investment Centre denied any claims that it had invited bids for the supply of soda ash mining equipment. The TIC categorically denied that the Government had given a green light to the project. In a statement it said, “TIC position is simple, we have not given any green light to the project. Neither has the Vice-President’s Office given a greenlight,” adding “ The laws are clear regarding this issue and will have to be followed”. This put to rest the anxiety and speculation that the government may already have cleared the soda ash mining project.
In August, an advertisement for the supply of mining equipment at Lake Natron soda ash project appeared on the web. The ad required prospective investors to give bids for the “supply of machinery and equipment, as well as trucks in a green field soda ash/caustic soda processing plant.” The advert was ostensibly placed on behalf of a private company by the Tanzania Investment Centre. This information cause some anxiety among conservation groups interested with the future of Lake Natron.
In June, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (BirdLife in Tanzania) screened “Crimson Wing”, the Disney film on Lake Natron flamingos, to the Tanzanian Parliament. The film was screened to Members of Parliament sitting in Dodoma on 24th and 25th June 2009. WCST’s CEO Lota Melamari accompanied by the film’s producer, Matt Aeberhard, report that the film was viewed with great interest by the MPs. The team’s visit to parliament was graciously facilitated by Dr Batilda Buriani, Tanzania’s Environment Minister, the members of Parliamentary Permanent Committee on Land, Natural Resources and Environment and the House Speaker Hon Samuel Sita. This historic event took the Lake Natron challenge and threw the gauntlet at the feet of Tanzania’s lawmakers. Judging from the enthusiasm shown by the MPs it is possible Lake Natron now has a few more high level supporters. However, “the work is far from being over” warns Mr. Melamari. “The government has not withdrawn its interest in the exploration of the soda ash project and so we should maintain our influence and awareness creation to various segments of the society”, he added.
In January, BirdLife International adopted a new direction for the “Think Pink” Campaign. The campaign launched in October 2007 was designed to oppose the construction of the soda mining proposal at Lake Natron through petitions and protests when it seemed as if there was a headlong rush to develop the soda ash facility without adequate information, proper planning or consideration of all options. By the end of 2008, the "Think Pink" campaign had obtained petitions and protests from institutions and individuals in 63 countries. Almost certainly as a result of this pressure working in tandem with other protests and campaigns e.g. through the Lake Natron Consultative Group, the ESIA commissioned for the soda ash project was rejected by the Tanzanian authorities and one of the main backers of the project - TATA Chemicals Limited of Mumbai, India, publicly announced withdrawal of the ESIA. The new direction favoured a shift from strong outward opposition to working with the Tanzanian (and Kenyan) governments and other partners to find sustainable long term solutions for Lake Natron. In particular, working closely with these governments to ensure that the future of Lake Natron, the flamingos and local communities are not put at risk. This approach will hold as long as the precautionary principle is upheld by these governments.
In January, BirdLife jointly sponsored a meeting with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST- BirdLife in Tanzania) that brought together the Wildlife Division of Tanzania, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Natural Light Films (who had recently made a film of the Flamingos of Lake Natron), the Ilkisongo Pastoralists Initiative and other stakeholders to undertake a holistic overview of main current initiatives at Lake Natron and opportunities for synergies; agree on key steps for collaboration in development and implementation of a framework for Lesser Flamingo Action in Tanzania and East Tanzania; Develop a road map (and regional collaborative links) for the development and implementation of Lake Natron Integrated Management Plan and the proposed inclusion of Kenya side as a Ramsar site, and agree a fundraising framework plan for conserving Lake Natron. The Lake Natron informal Partners forum was formed to take the above issues forward with roles and responsibilities being agreed.
Between 28th October to 4th November, the 10th Meeting of the Ramsar Convention (Ramsar COP10) took place in Changwon, South Korea. Many significant developments related to Lake Natron took place, among them a statement by the Government of Tanzania highlighting the importance of the Lake to the country's economy. The Environment Minister described Natron as "Flamingo's birthplace" during the launch of "Crimson Wings" a Disney Nature Film on flamingos. During Ramsar COP10 the BirdLife team comprising of Richard Grimmett (BirdLife International), Achilles Byaruhanga (Nature Uganda / BirdLife in Uganda) and Ken Mwathe (BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat) held consultations with Dr Buriani and discussed Lake Natron. The conference also passed a resolution asking the government to file a report indicating the extent to which the Ramsar Advisory Mission recommendations had been implemented. Lake Natron also featured prominently at the BirdLife International exhibition booth where a poster and brochures were distributed.
When Kim IL Kim Hong IL - the young Editor of the children Magazine Eco-generation - visited the BirdLife booth at the COP10 Ramsar conference he was so touched by the story of Natron flamingos that he decided to mount his own mini campaign. He drew quite some attention with his small poster written ‘Save Natron flamingos”. BirdLife believes Kim represents the future generation, whose voices should be heard.
Between 13th and 18th October, Ken Mwathe attended the Horn of Africa Environment Centre and Network Meeting in Djibouti and presented a paper on Lake Natron titled "The role of advocacy in saving threatened ecosystems and species: the case of Lake Natron flamingos". During this period seven new institutions joined the Lake Natron Consultative Group raising the number to 41.
In September, the report of the Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM) on Lake Natron, Tanzania was officially released. The RAM which took place on 17th to 29th February 2008 was to provide advice to the Government of Tanzania concerning the wise use and future management of the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar Site, with particular reference to the proposed development of a soda ash facility that would abstract liquid brine from Lake Natron. Among other things, the report called for the withdrawal of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, the development of an over-arching plan for Lake Natron and the establishment of a regional cross border conservation project linking Tanzania with Kenya.
In September, the 12th Pan African Ornithological Congress meeting in South Africa passed a resolution urging the Government of Tanzania to protect Lake Natron as the world's most important Lesser Flamingo breeding site. The 250 scientists from all over the world asked the government to consider the disruption the proposed soda ash mining is likely to cause on the breeding of this highly sensitive species.
On 26th August, a Consultant was engaged by BirdLife International, the RSPB (BirdLife in UK), and WCST (BirdLife in Tanzania) to carry out a Cost Benefit Analysis of conserving the resources of Lake Natron against soda ash development. The consultant, a Tanzanian professor from one of the local universities carried out out the study by interviewing interested and affected parties at local, national and regional levels. He would also make a field visit to Lake Natron to carry out the assessment. Critically, the consultant would take the views from the investor (Tata Chemicals Ltd and National Development Corporation) and also interview key government officials. At the end of the study a stakeholder meeting would be held to give a critical analysis of the results.
On 6th August, two staff from BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat- Julius Arinaitwe and Ken Mwathe joined a team of Tanzania’s Wildlife Division in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) to discuss the development of Lesser Flamingo Action Plan (LFAP). The LFAP would be crafted within the framework of a Integrated Management Plan for Lake Natron.
On 10th July, The Lake Natron Consultative Group issued a comprehensive statement faulting National Development Corporation’s position on Lake Natron project. The Group, which BirdLife International Africa Partnership is part of maintained that shifting the location of the project could not mitigate the possible negative impacts on Lesser Flamingos and would cause more damage to the landscape through the factory’s extended ecological footprint.
On June 22nd, The National Development Corporation, Tata Chemicals Ltd partner in Tanzania released a press statement saying it was keen to proceed with the soda ash project. NDC supported the proposed project claiming it would not be harmful to Lesser Flamingos and would bring many benefits to the people. NDC blamed the woes currently facing the proposed project to the sustained campaigns by local and international organisations to have the project stopped.
On 19th June, a team from Lake Natron Consultative Group was invited to East African Parliament headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania, to brief the Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Tourism on the Lake Natron issue. The team comprised of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, Ilkisongo Pastoralist Initiatives, BirdLife International and Journalists Environment Action Team. The team had a fruitful 1 ½hrs engagement with the Members of Parliament. Two submissions were made: that the House passes the bill on the Management of Natural Resources in East Africa and that the Lake Natron issue be debated upon. Both these requests were granted.
On 22nd May, Tata Chemicals Ltd officially withdrew the soda ash project as originally conceptualised. This was contained in a statement released to the Hindustan Times of India. In withdrawing the project, the Tata Managing Director said “The Company is not in a position to take a view with regard to resumption till it has a chance to examine the final approved Ramsar Management Plan currently under preparation for Lake Natron.” The Hindustan Times story titled Green Groups halt Tata Plant in Tanzania also quoted Mr Khusrokhan saying, “…the original Environment and Social Impact Assessment….. should be treated as withdrawn.”
On 14th May, a team from BirdLife International Africa Partnership Secretariat, Lake Natron consultative Group, Nature Kenya and Youth for Conservation held a meeting with the Speaker and the Clerk of the East African Parliament. The team requested the Speaker for an opportunity to make a presentation to the Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Tourism. The Speaker agreed and pointed out that he was in the process of forging stronger links between Parliament and civil society.
- On 5th May,The Lake Natron Consultative Group held an international press conference at Hotel Intercontinental, Nairobi and renewed the advocacy campaign for Lake Natron. Subsequently there was extensive press coverage in the local and international media. Notable were: a live interview by Ken Mwathe, The Group’s Coordinator, with Kenya’s NTV on 6th May and prominent stories by The Independent (UK) and Reuters. Many local media houses in East Africa also ran supportive stories.
- On 1st May, the new Environment Minister (Dr Batilda Buriani) announced that the government had discarded the ESIA report and would await fresh studies by the investor. However she stated that the new studies must be preceded by the development of an Integrated Management Plan for Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site.
- On 30th April, the World Bank organised a stakeholder meeting in Dar es Salaam in which the new project manager for Tata Chemicals Ltd announced that they had asked the government to withdraw the ESIA report they had submitted for review. Mr Rahul Singh said the investor would move to a new site 32 kms away and would carry out fresh studies.
- On Wednesday, 29th April, Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) had an audience with the Minister for Environment, Dr Batilda Buriani, during which they briefed on their activities and discussed about Lake Natron. JET commended her for visting Lake Natron and replying promptly to the letters sent to her by stakeholders. They also pointed out that the issue had taken too long and stakeholders wanted to know the government's decision. She explained that the government was aware of the concerns by stakeholders pointing out that some processes had to be completed before the government could make any decision.
- On 7th April the Consultative Group wrote a similar letter to Dr Burhani presenting a strong case for the project to be rejected based on social, economic and ecological considerations.
- On 4th April, a Team of Tanzanian MPs who sit in the Parliamentary Committee on Land, Natural Resources and Environment were taken on a tour of Lake Natron. The visit was organised by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST). The MPs had several meetings with local community, with one meeting at Engare Sero Village being attended by more than 100 people who were strongly opposed to soda ash mining. At the end of the tour the MPs acknowledged the serious impacts of soda ash mining and some pledged to oppose it.
- In March, BirdLife International wrote to the new Minster for Environment in the Vice President’s Office (Dr Matilda Salha Burhani) urging her to reject the proposed project. She sent a reply saying whatever decision the government makes it will not contravene Ramsar, CBD and other conventions.
- On 13 March, Lake Natron Resources Ltd wrote formally to NEMC to withdraw the current ESIA from consideration. The letter stated that LNRL would commission a new ESIA for the new proposed site(s) and associated infrastructure. LNRL called on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism first to prepare an Integrated Ramsar Management Plan to inform the ESIA.
- Between 17th and 29th February, the Ramsar Secretariat sent an Advisory Mission to Tanzania to advise the government on the long term conservation of Lake Natron vis-a vis the proposed soda ash mining. BirdLife International and Lake Natron Consultative Group made written and verbal submissions to the Ramsar Team calling for the protection of Lake Natron in perpetuity by rejecting the soda mining plans.
- During the public hearing on 23 January, the National Development Corporation unexpectedly presented revised plans for the soda ash plant. Key changes included a shift in the site of the proposed plant from Wosi Wosi to Kitumbeine, more than 32 km away. These major changes required a new ESIA.
- On 23rd January, the National Environment Management Council of Tanzania held a public hearing on the EIA of the proposed project in Dar es Salaam. During the hearing, strong opposition to the project was expressed; with over 90% of the members of the public present rejecting the project. The strongest opposition came from a delegation of 12 community members who traveled from villages surrounding Lake Natron. BirdLife International and the Lake Natron Consultative Group presented verbal and written submissions opposing the development. The RSPB also presented the opposition of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators. There was wide media coverage of the public hearing in Tanzania with most of the coverage being supportive of BirdLife International’s, Lake Natron Consultative Group and RSPB’s positions.
- On 17th January 2008, WCST (BirdLife in Tanzania) supported by BirdLife International and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) made a presentation to the Tanzanian Parliamentary Committee on the Environment outlining the case against the project.
- On 2nd November 2007, the Technical Advisory Committee of the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) of Tanzania declined to accept the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the soda ash project at a meeting in Dar Es Salaam. WCST made a detailed critique of the EIA to the meeting and presented the BirdLife International position which requested the project to be halted on the basis of the precautionary principle.
Also in October, BirdLife International initiated a global campaign to help save Lake Natron. Dubbed “Think Pink, Save Lesser Flamingos, the campaign is aimed at drawing the world’s attention to the threat that the species faces if the soda ash plant is built. As part of the Think Pink Campaign, conservation organizations, eminent conservationists, flamingo experts and concerned individuals from more than 60 countries across the world have written to the Tanzanian government protesting at the project plans. BirdLife International put out regular global press releases on the campaign and considerable media interest was generated.
In October, BirdLife partners from 23 African countries signed a petition against the soda project and sent it to the Tanzanian Government.
In July, representatives of WCST, BirdLife International and the Group attended the ESIA stakeholder’s meeting in Dar es Salaam and raised strong objections to the project.
The Lake Natron Consultative Group carried out an intensive awareness campaign through the media and initiated a petition against the soda ash plant that was signed by over 2,000 individuals across the globe. The Group also held regular consultations and wrote letters to senior government officials in East Africa and to Tata Chemicals Ltd, seeking support to have the project stopped. An Update Bulletin on developments around Lake Natron was designed and sent to thousands of individuals and institutions and across the globe.
In early 2007, Lake Natron Consultative Group was formed by concerned institutions and individuals in East Africa. The Group was formed to raise awareness on the threat to Lake Natron and Lesser Flamingos by the soda ash mining proposal by Tata and the Tanzania Government. The Group also sought to have the interests of the local communities and the risk to their livelihoods addressed. The Group now (June 2009) has 49 member institutions covering Africa, Asia, Europe and Americas. The Group is coordinated from the BirdLife International, Africa Partnership Secretariat. Email: Ken.Mwathe@birdlife.org
Following a scoping notice published on 1st November 2006 by the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) of Tanzania, WCST (BirdLife in Tanzania) made a submission to NEMC which stated that “in the eyes of conservationists, the implementation of this project will result in an ecosystem catastrophe in the long run”. Since that initial submission, WCST has maintained constant opposition to the project plans, including putting out press releases, radio interviews and lobbying and advising government officials.