At its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006), in the light of concern at the potential adverse impact of proposed large shelters over the churches, part of an EU funded project, the World Heritage Committee requested a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission to visit the property to:
a) Ensure that the Sate Party has revised the project in order to:
(i) Provide reversible, temporary shelters with minimal environmental impact
(ii) Improve the water collection system to avoid the effects of direct water fall and humidity in the proximity of the monuments
b) Review the detailed Impact Assessment Study of the proposed project
c) Review progress with an Action Plan, prepared by the Ethiopian Authorities, as requested by the Committee, to be undertaken before any work on the shelters commences and to include:
(i) Detailed description of the project activities;
(ii) Detailed investigation into the causes of deterioration of the structure of the churches;
(iii) A monitoring system for the site;
(iv) Development of an overall Management Plan with the participation of the local communities.
The mission reported that in spite of the complex EU administrative framework, the World Heritage Centre, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Government and the European Commission, had succeeded in changing to the design of the shelters, making them both smaller and reversible. While maintaining the key elements of the architectural design that had won the 1997 architectural competition, the new project is reversible and presents no physical threat to the World Heritage site. In addition, the project has been designed to mitigate risks and minimise environmental damage to the site and its surroundings during the construction period. Finally, the Ethiopian Government has also managed to include in the contract of the construction company a maintenance plan for the shelters. The construction elements of the shelters will be manufactured in Italy, in the first half of 2007 and shipped to Lalibela via Djibouti. The mounting of the modular metallic structure is expected to start in June 2007 and end in December 2007.
The changes to the project, displayed in the revised project drawings are:
d) Foundations: The foundations will sit on top of the bedrock around the churches: there will be no excavation. Prefabricated parts in reinforced concrete will be used.
e) Roof structures: The elements composing the roof structure have been reduced in weight from 200 kg to between 30 to 70 kg. This allows easy handling and access, and the use of lighter construction machinery and transportation equipment and provides jobs for local workers.
f) Rainwater drainage: Drainage of rain water will be gutters and water pipes in peripheral drainage trenches.
g) Maintenance: The Construction Company will provide the Ethiopian Government with a maintenance plan for the shelters. The Ethiopian authorities will ensure the required maintenance.
h) Dismantling: The Construction Company will provide the Ethiopian Government with a dismantling plan for the shelters.
i) Environmental impact: The revised project has minimized the environmental impact of the construction works on the site and the landscape. No new roads will be created to transport construction materials to the site; the recently built main road in the village will not be used for moving heavy machinery and the storage area has been chosen to minimize the visual impact on the site and its surroundings.
Conservation Action Plan:
Since the mission of June 2006, the World Heritage Centre has developed in cooperation with the Ethiopia Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), a conservation action plan for the churches. This action plan is based on the various mission reports since the 1980s as well as the results of restoration campaigns carried out in Lalibela in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, the World Heritage Centre organized in September 2006 an experts’ meeting to help define this action plan. ICOMOS and the World Heritage Centre have requested that the Plan should be extended to include the historical and archaeological study of the wider setting of the churches, analysis of rock excavation and carving techniques, analysis of mortars, structural analysis of churches, cleaning and restoration of rock paintings, respect for the patina of hewn rock faces, and the integration of archives from restoration work in the 1950s and 1960s.
The resulting plan is a tool to plan and prioritize actions and for fundraising. As a result, in addition to one million dollars matching funds allocated by the World Monuments Fund, the Norwegian Government has allocated USD 300,000 for the implementation of a pilot project on the small church of Biet Mercurios. The pilot project will address structural failure of the rock around Biet Mercurios, the conservation of mural paintings, and the affect of climate factors. Funds of USD 150,000 from the World Monument fund (as matching funding for the Norwegian Funds) will be used to undertake surveys, an archaeological study, a structural study and an analysis of decay factors. These studies were requested by the Committee at its 30th session. They will be implemented in 2007 and 2008.
The Environmental impact assessment study
This study was not undertaken by the Ethiopian authorities. Nevertheless, many of the potential impacts have been addressed in the revised plan. The on-going impacts such as effects on micro-climate of the churches need to be addressed through on-going maintenance.
The shelters as now revised are temporary and they will allow time to identify more permanent arrangements for protection measures that will optimise the lifespan of the buildings and their surfaces.
The need for a detailed site Management Plan, as requested by the Committee, has been identified in the Conservation Action Plan.
The Plan should create a mechanism to address the long-term sustainable development of the churches and their surrounding landscape and villages. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider that as background research for such a plan, there is a need for a hydrological assessment of the water catchments’ area around the churches and an assessment of the changing agricultural and other land management practices over the past half century as a means of identifying whether the changes in decay in the fabric of the churches might be linked to environmental changes such as the speed of water run-off. The Plan could also address options for improving services to the traditional village in the site. In advance of the Management Plan, there is a need for better mapping and documentation of the site, and definition of the boundaries and the buffer zone as these were not included in the initial nomination file.