BirdLife Africa Partners Joint Statement on Developmental Threats to and Management of World Heritage Sites


BirdLife International Partners in 26 African countries (the BirdLife Africa Partnership), would like to convey our congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the World Heritage Convention. While the Convention has undoubtedly contributed to the protection of iconic and irreplaceable sites around Africa and around the world, we are deeply concerned about large-scale development projects and mismanagement that threaten an increasing number of the World Heritage Sites in Africa.

BirdLife Africa Partners Joint Statement on Threats to Development and Management of World Heritage Sites – 16 November 2022

We, the undersigned BirdLife International Partner organizations from across Africa, congratulate the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Heritage Committee and its Advisory Bodies, and the 194 States Parties to World Heritage Convention on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention. Over the past half century, the World Heritage Convention has played an important role in safeguarding some of the world’s most unique and irreplaceable sites, whose Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) makes them of global importance. community. However, as we reflect on the Convention’s past successes and its future role, we are deeply concerned about the massive development projects and mismanagement that threaten the growing number of World Heritage Sites in Africa.

Shoebill, Zambia, copyright Nigel Voaden, from surfbirds galleries

As conservation organizations, we recognize the value that World Heritage status places on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity of global importance. We also note that natural World Heritage Sites provide a variety of social and economic benefits to the countries where they occur – including income from ecotourism, and the protection of essential ecosystem services supporting lives, livelihoods, and sustainable socio-economic development. In fact, there are several ways in which these sites contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. However, we note, the increasing trend of large infrastructural development and extractive projects in the industry proposed and approved in and around natural African World Heritage Sites, with apparent disregard for the effects on the Residual General Value of these sites.

We further note that ineffective management threatens the integrity of various World Heritage Sites in Africa. This, despite the government’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention to protect and preserve natural heritage, and to present and transmit such heritage to future generations. Examples include:

• The decision to authorize and proceed with the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Project (Republic of Tanzania), despite warnings by the World Heritage Committee of the high probability of serious and irreversible damage to the Outstanding Universal Value of the Selous Game Reserve – with potential which also seriously affects the community living downstream.

• The decision to approve the Kangaluwi and Chisawa opencast copper mines (Zambia), despite repeated urgings by the World Heritage Committee that this project should not proceed due to its serious impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas (Zimbabwe).

• The proposed Batoka Gorge Hydro-electric Scheme (Zambia and Zimbabwe), its reservoir (as per current proposal) will flood the Mosioa-Tunya/Victoria Falls section. The World Heritage Committee has clearly stated its position that “the construction of dams with large reservoirs within the boundaries of World Heritage properties is incompatible with their World Heritage status”.

• The granting of oil exploration licenses in environmentally sensitive areas within the Okavango River basin (Botswana and Namibia), which could be the first step towards extractive activities that would pose significant risks to the interconnected system of waters of the Okavango Delta.

• The neglect of the Ichkeul National Park (Tunisia) – in particular, the failure to ensure the sustainable hydrological management of this site or to effectively address other potential threats to its values, such as illegal hunting and grazing.

We, BirdLife International Partners in Africa, are firmly of the position that:

• Governments and developers should prioritize the complete avoidance of potential negative impacts on World Heritage Sites, in accordance with the mitigation hierarchy.

• Loss or damage to Outstanding Universal Value is unacceptable and cannot be offset. If the negative impacts of the proposed project on a World Heritage Site cannot be reduced to an acceptable level (through effective evidence-based measures), the proposal must be rejected.

• Extractive industry projects are incompatible with World Heritage status and should not be carried out within World Heritage Sites. This has been recognized by both the World Heritage Committee and the ‘No Go’ pledge undertaken by many industry stakeholders.

• Governments must ensure that natural World Heritage Sites are managed in a way that prevents the erosion of the values ​​on which they were established and that, where destruction has occurred, restoration measures are implemented quickly.

We also strongly support the World Heritage Impact Assessment Principles defined by the IUCN and emphasize the need for Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA)/Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes to be transparent and participatory and for stakeholder inputs to be meaningfully considered and responded to. We collectively oppose the approval of development applications that do not include robust ESIAs/EIAs, and decision-making that fails to ensure the preservation of the Outstanding General Value of World Heritage Sites. We also collectively call on governments to mobilize the necessary funds to effectively manage the natural World Heritage Sites occurring in their territories and to involve civil society actors (especially scientists, non-governmental organizations, and local people) in planning and implementing such efforts, including restoration measures and follow-up monitoring.

We urge African States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to fully comply with and respect their obligations towards the protection and continued conservation of the world’s natural heritage, as well as their commitments towards conservation, sustainable use, and mainstreaming of biodiversity in terms of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Sustainable Development Goals, and many other regional and global environmental instruments. To this end, we strongly urge the governments of countries where projects are proposed to affect World Heritage Sites to reconsider those projects. We further urge States Parties, international funding bodies, and the private sector to accept and respect the ‘No Go’ pledge, especially in Africa.


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