Tanzania has abandoned the construction of a soda ash plant on the shores of Lake Natron, bowing to pressure from the international community and environmentalists.

The proposed $500 million soda ash plant project was conceived a decade ago, and would have a capacity of 500,000 tonnes per year, with plans to expand it to one million tonnes. It was expected to earn the country $300 million annually, and create 500 jobs.

A senior official at the National Development Corporation (NDC), said the project was shelved due to environmental concerns.

“Extensive research has shown that building a factory on the shores of Lake Natron will result in the lake drying up in about 10 years,” said the officer who requested anonymity.

He said the government will now focus on the Engaruka Basin soda ash project.

Engaruka Basin

Although Engaruka area, which is approximately 50km northeast of Lake Natron is part of the fragile Lake Natron Basin, it has generated less controversy and minimal opposition.

The lake is the breeding site of the Lesser flamingo, hosting over 75 per cent of the global population. Some two million birds descend on the lake annually to breed.

“The government’s move validates our ongoing collaboration to promote ecotourism as a sustainable alternative for local communities around Lake Natron,” said BirdLife International chief executive Patricia Zurita.

The non-governmental organisation is already implementing a three-year programme, aimed at improving the biodiversity, wetlands, and the livelihoods of local communities around the lake. It is funded by the Darwin Initiative.

Soda ash, known chemically as sodium carbonate, is a key raw material for making glass, chemicals, soaps and detergents.