The State Party, as requested by the World Heritage Committee (35 COM 7B.52), invited a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to visit the property and submitted a state of conservation report on 31 January 2012. The mission report is being finalised and will be available at the following internet address: http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/36COM
The State Party’s report reiterates many of the issues raised in the state of conservation report presented to the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2011 (document WHC-11/35.COM/7B.Add), the retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010) and the Report on the Second Cycle of Periodic Reporting in the Arab States presented at the same meeting in Brasilia. It explains that the legislative and management systems are in place but that effective implementation is not undertaken; similarly, while the elements of the property which contain the Outstanding Universal Value are intact and their integrity and authenticity are not significantly affected by the problems encountered, their conservation, setting and spiritual values are under threat. The accompanying letter from the Minister of Culture indicates that the State Party would like to develop an Action Plan, with the help of the World Heritage Centre, to safeguard the spiritual, cultural, natural and socio-economic values of the property.
The report lists the components of the legislative and management framework for the protection of the property and reiterates the continuing problems faced. These include: the complex ownership of the property with many stakeholders with different aspirations, the isolation of the valley, the previous neglect and poverty suffered by the residents who now wish to capitalise on the inscription, and the consequent development of illegal and inappropriate tourist facilities and unmanaged visitor access. While a management plan, developed in 1998 and complemented by management principles in 2007, is in place, its lack of implementation renders it ineffective and, for example, decisions to demolish inappropriate developments remain unfulfilled. The Community for the safeguarding of the Qadisha Valley (COSAQ), in charge of the management of the property, has been ineffective in bringing together the requirements and aspirations of different stakeholders, specialist conservators and the administrative authorities. There remain difficulties of rubbish disposal, policing and monitoring development and visitor access. Many of the wall paintings require conservation treatment.
The State Party is evidently aware of the management difficulties encountered, and steps have been taken to remedy the situation. Conservation projects, presentation and access improvement schemes have been developed using a variety of funding sources. A zoning plan for specific and appropriate types of development and an administrative plan establishing a legal framework appropriate for the valley have been adopted.
The joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS monitoring mission took place from 9 to 13 April 2012 and, although very short, it was able to confirm the information provided by the State Party and assess the global issues faced by the property, including:
a) Lack of an operational management structure;
b) Tourism development projects;
c) Illegal constructions in the Valley and on its margins;
d) Lack of waste management;
e) Uncontrolled visitor access;
f) Insufficient site custody;
g) Lack of maintenance of the roads and trails;
h) Lack of a conservation strategy for historic buildings;
i) Lack of a socio-economic development policy.
In addition, the mission was informed about a large development project within the property, entitled Planning Wadi Qannoubine, and had the opportunity to discuss it with various stakeholders, stressing in particular the severe negative impact it would have on the integrity and the Outstanding Universal Value of the property were it to be executed. Within the scope of this project, the elements which would cause the highest impact on the property relate to the means of access to the valley (electric cars, cablecars), the widening of the existing road in the bottom of the valley and the creation of five model villages for tourism accommodation.
The main recommendations of the mission for actions to be carried out in the near future include:
a) Establishment of a management structure with a permanent team in charge of maintenance, custody and visitor management;
b) In parallel, establishment of a funding mechanism to allow the functioning of the management structure and the implementation of rehabilitation and enhancement projects;
c) Undertaking of cadastral surveys to establish a detailed cartography of the property and an inventory of all buildings;
d) Revision of the recently submitted maps of the property and its buffer zone, so as to include all neighbouring villages in the latter;
e) Abandon the project of enlarging the road, creating cablecars or building model villages in the property;
f) Establishment of a conservation and restoration plan, for historic buildings as well as for rural habitat;
g) Establishment of a visitor management plan;
h) Establishment of a risk management plan;
i) Undertaking of studies aimed at improving the living conditions of the inhabitants within the property and of surrounding villages, notably through the branding of local agriculture products and handicrafts, and the development of an infrastructure for visitors and pilgrims.