Target: President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania
Goal: Abandon plans to extract sodium carbonate from Lake Natron.
The initial proposal to construct a soda ash (sodium carbonate) plant at Lake Natron, a salt lake in northern Tanzania, was put forward in 2006, but by 2008 plans were withdrawn due to international pressure from conservationists concerned with the negative impact the project would have on flamingo breeding, local livelihoods, and the environment. However, Tanzania still remains interested in large-scale sodium carbonate extraction that will threaten the survival of Lesser Flamingos by disrupting their most important breeding colony, and destroy its fragile wetland ecosystem.
Seventy-five percent of the world’s population of Lesser Flamingos depend on Lake Natron as a breeding and resting site. Lake Natron is a uniquely suitable nesting area for Lesser Flamingos because the alkaline soda lake exposes salt islands at its center that isolate nests from predators. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources classifies Lesser Flamingoes as Near Threatened, but if soda ash mining were to happen on the main nesting site, this species could become endangered.
Lake Natron is designated as an Important Bird Area by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and is within the geographical scope of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, which works to protect species that are ecologically dependent on wetlands. To extract and process soda ash, water would be pumped from the lake and wetlands. This operation would alter the hydrology of the marshes, springs, and rivers as well as the salinity of the lake. It would also deplete fresh water that local villages depend on. Physical barriers such as pipelines over the surface of the lake could prevent Lesser Flamingo fledglings from successfully moving across the lake.
For soda mining in Lake Natron to have positive benefits to investors, it would require soda ash to be produced at one million tons throughout the project period, which is not sustainable for an ecologically sensitive environment. Cost benefit analyses show that Tanzania would experience extreme economic losses from ecotourism and traditional economies such as herding and seasonal agriculture if they move forward with the plans. The majority of the local communities are strongly opposed to soda ash mining and wish to preserve their ways of life and their land.
Protest soda ash mining in Lake Natron and encourage Tanzania to respect its international obligations to protect its unique biodiversity for the benefit of surrounding communities.
Dear President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania,
The ecological and cultural integrity of Lake Natron and its surrounding communities must be safeguarded. I urge Tanzania to honor its international obligations to conserve this unique site that features a Wetland of International Importance and a breeding and resting area for most of the world’s Lesser Flamingo population. The conservation of the sensitive environment allows native villages to maintain their tenable traditional livelihoods.
The mining of sodium carbonate in Lake Natron will irreversibly destroy the fragile ecosystem of the lake and its wetlands. Lesser Flamingos will face endangerment of extinction if their main breeding ground is disturbed by mining. Water is a precious resource and local communities cannot afford to lose it through pumping it out of the wetlands in order to extract and process a low cost mineral. In addition to ecological losses, soda ash mining in Lake Natron would lead to economic losses in revenue generated through ecotourism and traditional economies.
I encourage Tanzania to abandon the environmentally and economically unsustainable plans to mine at Lake Natron as it will cause unnecessary harm to the ecology and impose on the ways of life of your local people. Ecotourism is an economically viable financial alternative that can be supported by the environment and society. Protecting Lake Natron will give local communities better opportunities to manage this distinct area that they depend on and take pride in.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Hannes Thirion via Flickr.