Tata withdraws Natron project ESIA Report
Tata Chemicals Ltd (TCL) has finally withdrawn the much discredited Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Report for the proposed Lake Natron soda ash plant. The development has been opposed by national NGOs in Tanzania, the Lake Natron Consultative Group (a consortium of 32 mainly East African NGOs), BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB; BirdLife in the UK), for posing serious threats to the survival of Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor and the livelihoods of local communities.
In an apparent response to these concerns, the company told a stakeholder meeting hosted by the World Bank in Dar es Salaam last week that they had asked the Tanzanian government to disregard the earlier report. Mr Rahul Singh, the new TCL Project Manager, said: “We have turned down the earlier ESIA report and we have requested the government to throw away the original report as we are working on new studies on the matter.”
During the meeting - attended by a wide range of donors, media, government personalities and the private sector - Lota Melamari, the CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania) presented a strong case for the complete abandonment of the project in a presentation entitled "Flamingos of Lake Natron, a Tanzanian Treasure". In his talk, Lota described Natron’s vast flocks of shimmering pink flamingos as one of the world’s greatest wildlife attractions. “This resource must not be destroyed”, said Lota.
“This resource must not be destroyed” —Lota Melamari, CEO WCST - BirdLife in Tanzania
At the same meeting the Tourism Services Manager of the Tanzania Tourist Board, Ms Serena Shao, warned that Tanzania may not achieve its tourism targets if key attractions are destroyed. “The soda ash proposal must be critically analysed given that Tanzania currently earns over 1billion US dollars from tourism. Our dream of attracting one million tourists by 2010 may not be achieved if we damage key attractions like Lake Natron “, she said.
In response to the investor’s withdrawal of the project, the new Environment Minister of Tanzania (Dr Batilda Burian) called a press conference on 1 May 2008 and issued a government statement in which she warned that while the investors were free to conduct a fresh ESIA, they should be aware that unless their report satisfied environmental and social concerns, no approval would be granted. Dr Burian further said that a new ESIA must be preceded by the development of an Integrated Management Plan for the Lake Natron Ramsar Site which would spell out the future conservation and development agenda for the area.
BirdLife International, the RSPB and the Lake Natron Consultative Group welcome the investor’s decision to withdraw the initial ESIA report submitted to NEMC. We also laud the new Minister’s quick response and commend her for being responsive to stakeholders in general on this matter. However, we hold the view that Tata Chemicals Ltd and its Tanzanian partner the National Development Corporation should have withdrawn the project altogether. Shifting the project 32 km away from Lake Natron does not amount to “mitigation” of the serious impacts the project is likely to pose to the Lesser Flamingos and the local communities. The project impacts are not limited to the operations of the plant alone but the whole process of brine extraction (including an intricate network of pipes and roads on the surface of the lake as is the case at Lake Magadi in Kenya), pumping and processing.
“There is no way a project of this magnitude can operate without permanently scarring the landscape, and damaging local people’s livelihoods and biodiversity, especially the highly sensitive Lesser Flamingos” —Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife International’s Regional Director for Africa
In a related development, the Lake Natron Consultative Group of which the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat is a member, has stepped up its advocacy campaign to save Lake Natron following the investors' announcement that the project will be shifted to a new site. The Group held an International Press conference in Nairobi last week and declared that it was opposed to the plans by the investor to continue with plans for development of the soda ash plant by shifting the site 32 km away from Lake Natron. “The Group plans to engage the organs of the East African Community in debate to prepare them for possible discussion of the matter by the Council of Ministers and to lobby the Speaker and Members of the East African Legislative Assembly to support the Group’s position” said The Group’s Coordinator, Ken Mwathe.
BirdLife International’s position still remains that the risks posed by the proposed project are extremely serious in relation to the lesser flamingos breeding and therefore urges the Tanzanian Government to reject the project altogether.
Dr Hazell Thompson - firstname.lastname@example.org or
Ken Mwathe - email@example.com