According to Tanzania’s National Development Corporation (NDC) six foreign firms have submitted bids to establish a $500 million soda ash plant on the shores of Lake Natron. The NDC declined to identify the companies but is currently reviewing the bids. As we’ve reported previously, the planned development of the plant faces harsh opposition from environmental groups. The lake is a sensitive nesting ground for one-third of the world’s population of lesser flamingos, and it is widely feared that the creation of the plant could put the species as a whole at significant risk.
The Tanzanian government is determined to move ahead on the project, claiming that the plant could generate $300 million per year and create 500 jobs. The NDC will hold a 46% stake in the project, and the government has commissioned a wetland management plan and environmental assessment for the proposed site. The assessment is widely expected to call for extraction of soda ash with environmentally-friendly technology, as a way for the government to assuage environmental concerns.
The government’s assessment stands in stark contrast to a number of studies published last year. A report by Birdlife International and Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania found widespread opposition to the plan among local residents. A cost benefit analysis published in August found similar sentiments among local communities and projected a loss on investment of between $44 million and $492 million over the next 50 years. The same study projected earnings of between $1.28 billion and $1.57 billion over the same period if investments were instead made in environmental protection and local tourism in the Lake Natron area.
President Jakaya Kikwete was quoted as saying about the project, “Experience elsewhere shows that the excavation can be done without any harm to the ecosystem. What matters is the application of environmentally friendly technology to avoid disrupting the flamingos’ breeding sites. Sometimes, I doubt whether those who are opposing the plant are really patriotic, because it seems as if they are agents of some people we don’t know!”