May 5, 2008 / 3:41 PM / 10 years ago

Tanzania says soda plant will not harm flamingos

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Tanzanian state firm rejected the concerns of environmentalists on Monday that rare flamingoes would be threatened by the soda-ash plant it plans to build with an Indian company at a lake in northern Tanzania.

Flamingos are seen on the shore of Lake Bogoria in western Kenya July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

Conservationists say the plant will directly threaten the fragile ecosystem of Lake Natron, where three-quarters of the world’s lesser flamingos go to breed.

Gideon Nasari, managing director of Tanzania’s state-run National Development Corporation (NDC), said plans to shift the plant 35km (22 miles) from the lakeshore would help preserve the pink birds, which are a major tourist attraction.

“By locating the factory away from the lake, we are going to make sure that we can co-exist with the flamingos,” Nasari told Reuters in a telephone interview from Dar es Salaam.

“We are really working very hard to prove scientifically that in fact there is a self-renewing ability in that lake.”

Soda-ash is the common name for sodium carbonate, which can be used in making soap powders, glass and paper.

Conservationists fear the industrial extraction will affect the delicate mineral balance in the remote Lake Natron, killing the algae which the flamingos feed on and which gives them their pink pigment.

Addressing reporters in Nairobi on Monday, an umbrella group of 32 environmental organizations said they were “greatly disturbed” to learn NDC and its Indian partner, Tata Chemicals Ltd, planned to go ahead with work at the new site.

It says the lesser flamingo could become extinct in five years if its habitat is destroyed. Paul Matiku of Nature Kenya said the death of the rare birds would put regional tourism earnings at risk.

“If the flamingos are going to be threatened ... then what are the benefits of this project?” he said.

Pollution in neighboring Kenya has been blamed in recent years for the deaths of hundreds of flamingos, which belong to the “lesser” species, 80 percent of which live in Africa.

The umbrella Lake Natron Consultative Group said it was stepping up its efforts to halt the project through campaigning and by commissioning more studies into the costs and benefits of the proposed facility.

Nasari said NDC would begin that process this month. The company has a 40 percent shareholding in the project, while Tata owns the rest. They hope to create 100 jobs.

Nasari said the economics of the venture were clear, with NDC putting the cost of producing soda-ash in Tanzania at $180 per tonne, versus buying it from Kenya at $300 per tonne.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Matthew Tostevin)

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