Ramsar mission to Lake Natron, Tanzania

20/02/2008

Ramsar Advisory Mission No. 59: Tanzania (2008)

Ramsar mission to Lake Natron

The Africa Unit of the Ramsar Secretariat is preparing a Ramsar Advisory mission to Lake Natron, Tanzania.

Based on recent information received by the Ramsar Secretariat from a number of stakeholders, the Ramsar Secretary General wrote to the Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism on 28 August 2007 to express concern about the possible threats to the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site (shared by Tanzania and Kenya) from the proposed development of a soda ash extraction facility and its associated infrastructure. Similarly, the Executive Secretaries of CMS and AEWA wrote together on 14 June 2007 to the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism to express concerns over the possible impact of the planned development on the lake's ecosystem, the East African population of the Lesser Flamingo, and the species as a whole.

In his 28 August 2007 letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, the Ramsar Secretary General offered to assist the Government of Tanzania in fulfilling its obligations under the Ramsar Convention through the services of a Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM). Such Missions provide technical assistance towards the management and conservation of sites whose ecological character is threatened. On 30 August 2007, the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism wrote to the Ramsar Secretary General welcoming the proposed Ramsar Advisory Mission in order to assist Tanzania "to extract soda ash from Lake Natron, while safeguarding the environment, in particular the breeding habitats of lesser flamingo."

It is worth noting that there are DANIDA resources available to produce an Integrated Management Plan for the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site, and the RAM is seen as an opportunity to help develop a short-term plan for the site as a first step towards a long term integrated management plan.

The objectives of the RAM are, among others:

  • to assess the threats to the conservation and wise use of the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site;
  • to review measures included in the current proposal and the ESIA for minimizing and/or eliminating the negative environmental and social impacts, including possible transborder impacts, of the proposed facility;
  • to investigate options and alternatives available for further reducing and/or eliminating the negative environmental and social impacts;
  • to analyze the socio-economic implications to the local communities, the lake Natron region, Tanzania and the subregional (East Africa) and, indeed, the global community in general (i.e., for tourism/conservation, mining, rural development, etc);
  • to advise the Government of Tanzania concerning the inclusion of the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site in the Montreux Record if the Convention text's article 3.2. applies;
  • to make recommendations to the Government of Tanzania and the Ramsar, CMS and AEWA Secretariats on the conservation and wise use measures that should be taken to safeguard the environment and the biodiversity of the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site and the livelihoods of local stakeholders;
  • to assist GoT to prepare a short term plan for the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar Site, based on the available data, as the first step towardes a long term integrated management plan for the future of the area.
  • to explore views and suggestions from various key players and decision makers to see how this idea is received and plan for detailed analysis involving an environmental economist to provide the required information and;
  • at the request of the Government of Tanzania, to explore the possibility of international compensation for loss of revenue if the project is not implemented;

The mission will last from 17 to 28 February 2008 and be made up of a multidisciplinary team which includes: i) the Chair of the Ramsar Standing Committee (Head of Delegation), ii) a representative of the Ramsar STRP, iii) the IUCN Species Survival Commission, iv) a representation of the CMS and its AEWA agreement, v) two consultants to deal with the wise use and socio-economic aspects of the mission.

The first phase of the mission, from 17 to 20 February, will be devoted to extensive discussions with the following groups: i) governmental institutions involved in the Soda Ash project, ii) private and business sector, iii) NGOs/CSOs (including MPs and other elected officials of the project zone) and, iv) the donors' community.

The second phase, from 21 to 28 of February, will be a field visit to Lake Natron and the surrounding area to see the important sites of the lake and meet with local officials and communities in the surrounding villages, and especially to discuss the irrigation systems and water usage. This phase will also include a visit to the Soda Ash extraction point on the lake.

Finally, since Lake Natron is a transboundary lake and in accordance with the Convention's article 5, which promotes international cooperation in the case of a wetland extending over the territories of more than one Contracting Party or where a water system is shared by Contracting Parties, we have associated three representatives from the Administrative Authority of the Ramsar Convention in Kenya to participate in the mission as observers.

This mission has been made possible thanks to the financial and technical contribution of the Ramsar Secretariat, CMS/AEWA conventions, and DANIDA funds to the Government of Tanzania.

The mission overall coordination is assured by the African Unit of the Ramsar Secretariat.

-- Mr Abou Bamba, Ramsar

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