At its 29th Session in 2005, the Committee urged the State Party to adopt long-term and sustainable measures with all the concerned national institutions, and to invite a joint mission of the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS to:
a) assess the situation of the property, both in terms of the state of conservation of the archaeological remains and in terms of the hydrological issue;
b) evaluate the loss of Outstanding Universal Value of the property and of its integrity;
c) review the proposed project;
d) determine the necessary steps towards the implementation of the recommendation, including the setting up of benchmarks with a time frame for their fulfilment, the establishment of an emergency plan while the project was taking place, and the formulation of proposals for a buffer zone ; and
e) provision of the necessary elements to orient the Committee for recommending a programme of corrective measures.
The joint World Heritage Centre-ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission visited the property in November 2005. The mission noted that:
Protecting the site from rising groundwater requires the lowering of the water table that is at the present time rising as a result of intensive irrigation in the nearby areas, supplied by the main canals coming from the Nile. The water table should be lowered at least 5 metres. The Egyptian Ministry of Culture has developed a project, aimed at lowering the water table by means of drainage ditches and pipes, inside and around the archaeological area. Completion is expected in about three years. The project is well designed and promises to be effective (work on the project began in December 2005). The operating conditions should be considered along with more general aspects of the management of water resources in a very large area of Egypt.
Economic and political aspects must be considered because a large amount of financial resources will be required, not only in the implementation phase, but also in the long-term working conditions. Moreover, the projects will succeed only if the farmers involved ensure their active participation, while all the state and regional authorities responsible for water management and irrigation also confirm their cooperation.
An efficient system for monitoring the water table in the archaeological site and in the surrounding zones is essential, as its level will remain the most significant variable for assessing the effectiveness of the solution to the problem.
Three preliminary tasks must be undertaken as quickly as possible:
a) A geophysical survey must be elaborated, concentrating in the beginning on areas where it is planned to undertake earth-moving operations connected with the measures to be taken to lower the water table on the site, and before this work has been started;
b) A rapid condition survey of all excavated remains should be carried out and urgent conservation undertaken in order to provide protection to structures during the vibration and other forms of damage likely to result from the use of heavy earth-moving equipment;
c) Discussions must take place simultaneously with these emergency actions in order to establish the definitive boundaries of the World Heritage site and its buffer zone.
Once these emergency activities have been successfully completed, the geophysical survey should continue over the entire site (including the buffer zone), to act as a guide to future research and management projects. At the same time, a conservation plan should be prepared, defining short-, medium-, and long-term objectives and establishing technical parameters (materials, techniques, etc).
Discussions should begin with stakeholders with the objective of preparing a management plan, to include research (including excavation and site survey), presentation and interpretation, the role of stakeholders (e.g. the Mar Mena community), staffing, sponsorship, visitor facilities, access, etc.
As regards paragraph 6.a) of Decision 29 COM 7A.17, related to a possible loss of the outstanding universal value of the property and of its integrity, the mission clearly indicated in its report that “there can be no question of the characteristics for which Abu Mena was originally inscribed having been lost: within the broad justification used in 1979, which characterizes it as ‘an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history’, nothing has been irretrievably lost and, indeed, much more has been learned about the site from excavations over the past two decades. Moreover, should the Committee consider the possibility of applying criterion (vi) to Abu Mena, the case for removing it from the World Heritage List on the grounds of loss of outstanding universal value would be further weakened. So far as loss of integrity is concerned, the case is somewhat stronger, though not sufficient to justify removal from the List”.
Further to the reactive monitoring mission, four undated reports were submitted by the State Party in February 2006, in Arabic with attached translations or summaries, and technical maps exclusively in Arabic, thus impossible to assess. Three of these reports are related to hydrological issues, while the fourth is a short description of the site and an overall presentation of the programme of archeological studies to be carried out along with the engineering work related to the lowering of the water table. These studies will mainly consist of: architectural survey, soil mechanics study, chemical analysis, monitoring the state of degradation/conservation, recording the structures and preparing detailed restoration projects, designing a site museum, etc.
However, while it is estimated that the hydrology project will last for three years, there is no established timetable for the conservation, restoration and presentation process which will therefore need to be rediscussed with the concerned authorities in order to determine a precisely scheduled work plan to reach the benchmarks identified. This should be achieved more or less within the same time frame, which is before the end of 2009.