Following Decision 29 COM 7B.36, a World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM mission visited the World Heritage property in 2006 to assess the state of conservation of the property and propose solutions to ease urban development pressure and to make recommendations to the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006). The mission confirmed that the World Heritage property was suffering from intense urban development pressure, which was threatening the integrity of the overall earthen architecture and archaeology of the city and for which urgent development and management measures were needed. The mission made the following recommendations:
a) Prepare an accurate map of the boundaries of the World Heritage property;
b) Establish urban and planning regulatory tools developed through a participative approach;
c) Create a buffer zone;
d) Prepare urgently both management and conservation plans, to include archaeological sites.
At the 30th session (Vilnius, 2006), the Committee requested the State Party to undertake all necessary measures to implement the recommendations of the mission; encouraged the State Party to submit a request for international assistance for the preparation of a management plan; and also encouraged the State Party to define a project aiming at identifying and promoting good practices in house rehabilitation and adaptation of traditional architecture for modern uses.
In its report submitted in January 2007, the State Party has provided details of a specific project initiated by the Ministry for the Culture of Mali and Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden. Under the second and final phase, 2005-2006, 30 houses have been restored in the tourist areas of the city; adding to the 100 houses restored in the first phase from 1997 to 2003.
The report further outlines many ongoing threats to the site connected to the lack of resources amongst the local inhabitants to carry out regular maintenance of buildings, inappropriate service installation (such as 58 new water fountains which add to water pollution in the streets), inappropriate work in streets carried out without authorization by the municipal authority; use of inappropriate materials such as burnt bricks, cement, metal windows and doors; plundering and illicit traffic of cultural goods, ‘anarchic’ urbanization, and encroachment on archeological sites, all projecting a situation that is dire and not under control.
The State Party reported that an international assistance request had been submitted for funds to develop a Management and Conservation Plan. As a preliminary to this, an initial meeting to launch work on a Management Plan had been held for all relevant stakeholders on July 13, 2006. This meeting was said to have created a bond between those present but that more efforts were needed to bring about strong support for the ideals of management and conservation. No details are provided on the process to be followed to develop a management plan, nor a timetable. In order to address how the existing buildings might provide acceptable homes relevant for the 21st century and be maintained in line with the residents’ requirements, ICOMOS and World Heritage Centre consider that the Management and Conservation Plan will need to address far more than the fabric of the building and does in effect need to be a sustainable development plan for the Old City. A synopsis of this plan needs to be developed as soon as possible.
Finally, the report does not address the three remaining areas of work identified by the mission, namely boundaries, regulatory tools, and buffer zone. ICOMOS and World Heritage Centre are concerned that no details are provided as to how the other mission recommendations are to be addressed. Given the short timeframe since the last Committee meeting, no firm actions could be expected, but it would have been desirable for a timeframe to have been provided for when these matters would receive attention. In the face of the continuing major deterioration of the fragile urban fabric, as acknowledged by the State Party, there is an urgent need for an action plan to set out how the structural problems identified by the mission might be addressed, and for which donor support might be sought. With the approval of the international assistance in November 2006 the State Party could use the opportunity of the elaboration of the management plan to address some of these other issues.