At its 33rd and 34th sessions, the World Heritage Committee was informed of the acts of vandalism that occurred at the property in April 2009 and requested a joint reactive monitoring mission. The World Heritage Committee also urged the State Party, in consultation with the mission, to undertake a detailed assessment of the damage in order to identify priorities and strategies for conservation and recovery of the vandalized sites, and also to explore how to improve long term protection of the property (enhancing the management system through improving collaboration with the local communities, developing promotion of the area’s significance and vulnerability for those involved with tourism, and improving conditions for control of on site access and visitation). While the State Party was requested to provide a state of conservation report for this property by 1 February 2011, no report had been received at the moment of drafting this document.
The joint reactive monitoring mission took place from 10 to 16 January 2011. As planned, ten of the vandalized sites were visited and their condition and physical context systematically recorded and analysed. For each site, information was obtained on morphology, conditions of the visit, size, dating indicators, iconographic symbols displayed, nature of rock support, painting methods and materials, engraving methods and technologies, prior alterations to the art itself or to the rock surfaces to which it is applied, and damage related to the recent vandalism. The site-specific analysis brought forward certain key observations:
· While damage to the ten sites studied is considerable, all of the rock art examples on the property are experiencing various forms of deterioration, given the long life of the site (in some cases 10,000 years) and the great variability in substrate conditions, micro-climate and the great range of forms of artistic expression.
· The variability in substrate conditions, micro-climate, and application technologies and materials suggests that efforts to test cleaning agents on the vandalized sites will need to be adjusted to suit the particular conditions of each site, and each site element.
· Any conservation strategy for the property should address the broad range of conditions and deterioration mechanisms to be found accross the property, not just on the vandalized sites.
The mission report proposes detailed methodologies for conservation-restoration interventions on the paintings and engravings, and for cleaning and recovering the damaged sites.
The mission report also comments on the challenges faced by the Department of Antiquities in managing the property, notably recent initiatives to establish a strong tourism industry inspired by the country’s many cultural resources of great significance and interest, but not yet constrained to protect these resources. The mission noted a World Bank project under development to provide the Department of Antiquities with the resources to better manage the country’s cultural heritage; the immediate objective of the project being to define a long term strategy to open the country to tourism.
The mission report notes that since inscription in 1985, property boundaries have not been clarified and that this ambiguity has contributed to much of the confusion surrounding property management. Equally the mission report recognised the interrelationship between natural and cultural values and the need to ensure that this broader understanding of the site and its relationships underpins management.
The mission report notes that uncontrolled tourist access and the limited presence of the Department of Antiquities on the site together produce a number of threats to the property; these include anarchic circulation which mars the natural environment of the property and leaves behind growing visitor pollution at key stopping points in tourist itineraries. The report notes that the nearby Tuareg communities respect the integrity of the property as do the archaeological missions but that oil industry operators use part of the site to route their operations. The report also underlines the necessity for the authorities to strongly increase the presence of qualified staff on this immense property, through development of large training and capacity building efforts supported by the State Party and the World Bank project referred to above.
Following completion of the mission report and in response to the changing political conditions within the country which followed, the mission team prepared a “Complementary Note” to its report which addresses these changing conditions noting that the current grave political crisis had made any scientific or technical intervention on the property impossible.
The report then outlines some recommendations important to consider when the overall situation improves:
a) Restore the ten rock art sites vandalized in April 2009, through enlisting participation of qualified experts with first hand site knowledge, their efforts focussed through a steering committee set up to manage participation and guide the process. A provisional 5 year plan is detailed in the report.
b) Reinforce the presence and means of the Department of Antiquities, principally by improving the support provided to monitoring posts (doubling personnel available for each post, ensuring access to a generator, satellite communications and a vehicle);
c) Organise a meeting of the Department of Antiquities with site experts and managers, representatives of local Popular Committees, UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies, and the World Bank in order to define a simple action plan to improve control of touristic activity on the property, to be immediately followed by a conference bringing together key representatives of all tourism companies in the country to assist in implementing the above action plan through voluntary agreement on key principles.