TANZANIA CREATING FIRST GEOPARK IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzania is creating the first ever geopark in sub-Sahara Africa and this maiden geology-based tourism and scientific site is likely to open with real-life fireworks from the anticipated Lengai volcano likely to soon hit the skies.

The Ngorongoro-Lengai geopark, earmarked to cover an area of 12,000 square kilometres of rocky hills, lengthy underground caves, lake basins, hominid discovery sites and the active Oldonyo L'engai volcano, will be the second geopark on the continent after the one in Morocco, but the northern Tanzania one will be the first to be established south of the Sahara.

We are working to expand the country's tourism potential by introducing attractions based on land formations, geology, history and geographical features, all being packaged under the single entity of 'Ngorongoro-Lengai Geopark', explained Nickson Nyange, the Public Relations Officer of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA).

The NCAA is the conservation institution behind the project. The hot and puffing active volcano and Tanzania's third highest peak, Mt Oldoinyo L'engai, will be one of the highlights for the new geopark, because there are reports that the volcanow, also called "Mountain of God" by locals, is showing signs of erupting anew, according to seismic sensors planted around it.

The volcano, located 150 kilometres from Arusha city, and surrounded by important paleoanthropological sites, has been experiencing eruptions which are usually confined to its summit although the lava flow can extend to several kilometres downhill.

Dr Sarah Stamps, a geophysicist from Virginia Tech university of the United States, recently led a team of local and international researchers to predict the next major eruption. They installed five positioning sensors around Ol Doinyo Lengai, and these apparently are sending back signals for impending volcanic activities.

The academics are reporting that the mountain may erupt in a few weeks' time and therefore necessary steps need to be taken. However, residents at Enkaresero village, located at the foot of Lengai, say it is too early to vacate.

We have lived here for ages, said Mzee Mepukoli Ole Melita, "and when the volcano is ripe, people here, including our livestock, can tell.

The first ever sub-Saharan geopark project was initiated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), while the European Union (EU) is funding the project, according to Joshua Mwankunda, the Acting Manager for the NCAA Cultural Heritage Department.

The EU has already provided 1.8 million Euros, equivalent to 4.3 billion Tanzanian shillings as initial funding towards the proposed geopark.

Unline national parks, Geoparks are a unified geographical area which addresses the protection and the use of geological heritage in a sustainable way, while also promoting social and economic well-being of the people residing within the earmarked location for the park.

A special meeting of officials to lay down plans for the country's maiden geopark was held in Arusha over the weekend, involving district commissioners, council chairpersons, executive directors and tourism officers, as well as administrative secretaries from Longido, Monduli, Karatu and Ngorongoro Districts.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK