Reports on the state of conservation of the property were received from both States Parties on the 21 March 2006.
On the side of Côte d’Ivoire, the property continues to be completely under the control of rebel forces. No conservation activities are taking place and all of the Park’s infrastructure and equipment have been taken over, destroyed or pillaged. Despite this, the State Party reports that the natural resources have not been adversely affected.
The State Party of Guinea reports ongoing degradation on the Guinean side, mostly within the Boussou and Déré zones of the larger Biosphere Reserve and which act as buffer zones to the World Heritage property. Encroachment and deforestation for cultivation and pastoralism is ongoing here, along with disputes between local people and the Park authority. This situation is a result of inadequate monitoring and patrolling due to a lack of resources. Pastoralists have also entered the World Heritage property during the dry season with hundreds of cattle causing important damage. Bush fires started by illegal hunters and pastoralists have reached the property and are difficult to control without the necessary equipment or personnel.
Illegal hunting by mine workers or villagers for local consumption continues. A recent project supported by the Netherlands Committee of IUCN and Flora and Fauna International (FFI) has found this practice to be taking place at a very high and unsustainable rate. The project has however helped groups of hunters to convert to surveillance activities and to the raising game for animal protein. Sellers of bush-meat have also been converted to the sale of crops, local craftworks and other products, as well as the setting up of a non-commercial association.
A 14km road from Gbakoré to Pierré Richaud, within the mining concession enclave, was built by the “Société des Minerais de Fer de Guinée” (SMFG) in November 2005 without consultation with the Park authorities, although an environmental impact assessment is said to have been carried out. Since 2005, the Société des Minerais de Fer de Guinée” (SMFG) is reported to have reactivated its activities in the mining enclave that was excluded from the World Heritage property in 1993. Currently, exploration activities are taking place, which are expected to last for a period of three years. The company also increased security measures and is undertaking a complete renovation of the mining town. The Park guards have subsequently been removed from the town, making their monitoring and patrolling work more difficult.
The State Party of Guinea notes that there is a critical need for additional resources and training for its personnel, commenting that it has not received adequate funding from the international community and World Heritage Fund until now. It requests that a monitoring mission be sent prior to the 30th session of the Committee, with the aim of assessing the current state of conservation of the property before the start of the GEF-UNDP-UNESCO-FFI project. Such an evaluation should assess the extent to which the 1993 mission recommendations have been implemented; and meeting with the States Parties of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
The report from the State Party of Guinea does not provide any update on the GEF-UNDP-UNESCO-FFI supported project entitled “Conservation of the Biodiversity of the Nimba Mountains through Integrated and Participatory Management”. As regards the funding, the World Heritage Centre has learnt from the National administrator of the project that the Conservation of the biodiversity of the Nimba Mountains Programme is financed by GEF to a total of USD 3,650,000, by UNDP/Guinea for USD 1,650,000 and by FFI for USD 200,000. The mining company SMFG is still requested to contribute USD 4,500,000 towards the project. Unfortunately, activities in the field have not yet started.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that, while the reports from both States Parties are useful in understanding some of the management issues at the property, they provide little information on the actual state of conservation of the values of the property and the impacts of various threats on these values, e.g. mining. For this reason, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that it is necessary to carry out a monitoring mission to the property in Guinea as requested by the State Party of Guinea, and in Côte d’Ivoire if the security situation allows.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN received in October 2005 a summary of a report prepared by FFI, at the request of the SMFG and BHP Billiton, on “Contributions towards an Environmental strategy for the SMFG”. The report proposes as an environmental goal for the company “to ensure a net positive effect on the environment and biological diversity of the Guinean Nimba Mountains and immediately surrounding areas as well as on the human communities directly affected by the Guinean portion of the mountain chain and the mining operation”. The report defines 11 objectives for inside the concession and 8 objectives for outside the concession, as well as indicators of success, to achieve this goal. The report concludes that a conscientiously run mine in the Nimba mountains that addresses environmental and social considerations outside as much as inside the concession area could be a positive force for the World Heritage property.
On 3 April 2006, the World Heritage Centre received a delegation comprising the President of SMFG, together with the national Administrator of the GEF-UNDP-UNESCO-FFI Project to discuss the current situation of the Mount Nimba conservation project as well as the proposed reopening of the iron-ore mining concessions within and around Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve.
Regarding the issue of re-opening iron-ore mining, the World Heritage Centre expressed to the delegation its concern over the potential impact of the mining activities on the values of the property. The President of the SMFG expressed the willingness of his company to cooperate with the Centre in order to ensure minimizing as much as possible the impacts of mining on the property. Furthermore, the World Heritage Centre was assured that mining would only take place outside the World Heritage property. In this regard, the President informed the Centre that a feasibility study is currently under preparation aimed at undertaking a comprehensive inventory of fauna and flora in the mining enclave before the commencement of any mining activities. This was in addition to information provided regarding future plans for an environmental impact assessment. SMFG invited the Centre’s participation in these activities.
The President of SMFG also informed the Centre of yet another feasibility study being undertaken by his company on the impact of constructing a “Transguinean” railroad to run from Mount Nimba to the Guinean coast for the purpose of transporting iron-ore from the mountain. The President assured the Centre that the railway starts outside the World Heritage property. The issue of the mining enclave delineated in 1993 by an interdisciplinary mission headed by UNESCO was also raised. It was agreed that the property should be revisited in order to re-establish a proper zoning using modern techniques such as GPS for accuracy. The World Heritage Centre notes that the property does not have proper maps and in view of the current increased global demand of iron-ore, a clear boundary demarcation is important to ensure that the integrity of the property is protected. It needs to be noted that the legal status of the protected area is somewhat unclear: the area was classified as an integral natural reserve in the colonial time but this status was never clearly confirmed after independence. However, the Reserve’s status was implicitly recognised through its classification as a Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and the inscription of the core area as a World Heritage site in 1981. With regard to the GEF-UNDP-UNESCO-FFI conservation of biological diversity project of Mounts Nimba, the National Project Coordinator requested the World Heritage Centre to launch the implementation of the project components earmarked for execution by UNESCO. Funds from the GEF for this component are already available and the State Party plans to seek additional funding under the World Heritage Fund.