Speaking at a recent Conference of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Tanzania's Environment Minister outlined the value of Lake Natron as the world's most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor. Dr Batilda Salha Buriani stated that Lake Natron is: "The sole breeding ground of up to 2.5 million flamingos ... representing 75% of the global population".
During the conference, Tanzania's Environment Minister spoke about Lake Natron as: "the flamingo's birthplace". She continued: "Tanzania is conscious of the potential that the wise use of wetlands can offer to sustain the economic and social activities of a wide range of public and private stakeholders".
Responding to concerns raised over the proposal to construct a soda ash plant at Lake Natron, Dr Buriani assured delegates that: "Tanzania is very cautious and whatever decisions that will be made will not in any way be at the expense of nature and ecosystems values". Furthermore, she stated that: "The government recognises the contribution of Lake Natron to accelerated national economic growth, meeting the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable livelihoods of local communities and to poverty reduction initiatives, particularly through tourism".
"The Government of Tanzania and the global community have a unique opportunity to enhance the conservation values of Lake Natron for the benefit of local communities and its extraordinary wildlife", said Richard Grimmett, BirdLife's Head of Conservation. "There are few places on earth like Lake Natron. We should take advantage of the current goodwill to protect it in perpetuity".
There is a proposal to construct a plant capable of producing 500,000 tonnes of soda ash at Lake Natron. The project's Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was recently withdrawn after worldwide opposition. BirdLife International believes the development, and associated infrastructure, will displace and scatter the Lesser Flamingos, and is spearheading the "Think Pink" campaign to conserve Lake Natron. Similarly, the Lake Natron Consultative Group - a consortium of 46 concerned institutions in Africa, Europe, Americas and Asia - has called for a halt to the soda ash plant plans.
The Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention passed a resolution requesting that the 'Government of Tanzania provide the Secretary General with updated information in relation to the advice and recommendations of the Ramsar Advisory Mission to the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site, in particular concerning the proposed development of soda ash facilities'. "Let me reiterate Tanzania's unfaltering commitment to the effective implementation of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands", commented Dr Buriani.
"I am one of those who strongly believe that we have not inherited this planet from our ancestors but rather we have borrowed it from our children ... whatever decision we make should be with their interests in our hearts", said Dr Buriani.
"Africa faces many challenges including extreme poverty", said Achilles Byaruhanga, Nature Uganda's Executive Director and BirdLife Africa's Wetlands focal point. "However, we should avoid the temptation of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs in the process of addressing these problems. This might be the case if we allow soda ash mining to take place at Lake Natron".