The Río PlátanoBiosphere Reserve (RPBR) World Heritage property was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1996 following observations made during a mission in 1995. That same mission also provided a list of 10 recommendations for actions that would contribute to removing the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The 2000 mission evaluated progress against those 10 recommendations and concluded that progress made had not been sufficient to warrant recommending removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger and made further recommendations and called for another mission in 2003. At the request of the 25th session of the Committee a joint UNESCO/IUCN mission visited Honduras from 23-28 June 2003 to assess the state of conservation of the property and to assess progress on the 10 recommendations made in 1995. The 2003 mission report, in English and Spanish, is available for consultation by States Parties.
It is important to note that the World Heritage property consists of a core zone in which human settlements are not permitted, and a buffer zone in which sustainable activities and human settlements are allowed.
The 2003 mission considered the recommendations made in the 1995 mission, along with the conclusions and suggestions made during the 2000 mission, and reported the following:
a) The boundary of the property’s core zone is intact and clearly defined boundary markers were observed at those points of entry visited;
b) Settlers within the property’s core zone have largely been removed, though 32 individuals continue to own land and seven families continue to live in the core zone due to a lack of resettlement compensation funds;
c) At the time of the mission, legal loopholes in the forestry regulations allowed for the “legalization” of illegally extracted timber from the core zone, though recent information provided by IUCN reveals that these loopholes have since been closed;
d) Though access control posts had been erected at property access points, these were not manned, and no access control was taking place;
e) A Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve administrative framework has been established and integrates various stakeholders in the management planning process;
f) A management plan for the property has been developed, though it has not been widely disseminated;
g) On-going immigration of subsistence farmers into the buffer zone to exploit its natural resources threatens the property’s long term integrity;
h) Some land uses carried out in the buffer zone (e.g. extensive cattle ranching) are unsustainable and threaten the long term integrity of the property;
i)The lack of infrastructure and services for small producers and potential tourism initiatives hinder sustainable economic development and are underlying causes for poverty, leading to over-exploitation of natural resources;
j) The Government of Germany has provided significant help to the property’s management authority (the Honduras Forestry Development Commission - COHDEFOR) in the implementation of the recommendations made by the 1995 evaluation mission. However, there is some concern about the capacity of the State Party to assume the operations currently being covered by the Government of Germany, once its co-operation comes to an end.
Furthermore the mission came to the following conclusions:
a) The State Party has complied to a large extent with the ten specific recommendations made by the 1995 evaluation mission;
b) The level of threat experienced by the property has decreased since 1995;
c) Certain threats persist, particularly the advance of the agricultural frontier and illegal timber harvesting in the buffer zone;
d) The process of relocating settlers from within the core zone of the property has progressed considerably, but a small group of people remain;
e) The restructuring of CODEHFOR, responsible for the management of the property, has imposed new limitations on the human and financial resources allocated to management issues;
f) There is uncertainty in regards to the State Party’s ability to maintain strong and stable management presence in the area once the support from the Government of Germany comes to an end.
The Committee at its 27th session requested that management benchmarks and timeframes be identified to facilitate the removal of this property from the List of World Heritage in Danger. Based on the recommendations of the previous missions and broad-based consultations with field staff, non-governmental organizations and community representatives, the mission team developed a list of benchmarks; the most critical of which are included in the draft decision below. The Centre notes that the State Party arranged for two high level meetings during the 2003 mission, at which were present several Ministers of the Government of Honduras. These meetings helped validate the findings of the mission team, clarify issues for leading decision-makers, and quickly establish a response strategy to deal with the issues raised.
The Centre and IUCN are currently collaborating with the State Party to monitor progress towards these benchmarks in 2004, and if sufficient progress could be achieved, an evaluation mission could be organized to carry out a site based assessment in early 2005. Subject to the level of progress towards the benchmarks and to the State Party’s agreement, a recommendation with regard to the removal of this property from the List of World Heritage in Danger may be presented to the 29th session of the Committee in 2005.