The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities (Iraq) (C/N 1481)
Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 2016
Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger N/A
Previous Committee Decisions see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1481/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1481/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
2017: Heritage Emergency Fund – support to Iraqi World Heritage properties: USD 100 000
Previous monitoring missions
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
Factors identified at the time of inscription in 2016:
- Need to conduct further studies regarding minimum water flows, to confirm the biodiversity within the property and its surrounding landscapes
- Incomplete designation of all the components of the property as legally protected areas
- Need to regulate oil and gas concessions, and other potentially impacting activities in the buffer zones of the property
- Highly unstable conservation conditions of the archaeological sites
- Need for a detailed master plan/road map that ensures the conservation of the property on a sustainable basis
- Need for an effective implementation of the consolidated management plan
Illustrative material see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1481/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2018
On 1 December 2017, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1481/documents, providing the following information:
- The Strategy for Water and Land Resources in Iraq (SWLRI) has been developed, covering the period until 2035, and recognizing the Iraqi marshlands as a legitimate water user. Minimum water flows of 5.8 billion cubic meters (BCM) are being allocated to the marshlands annually. Competition with other water users, notably agriculture, remains a challenge, particularly in light of upstream dam developments in neighbouring countries. Efforts to address the noted need for reform of water governance in Iraq, and long-term water sharing agreements with Turkey and Iran are underway;
- An increasing number of recent scientific studies on the biodiversity of the property is noted, however more work is needed to fill knowledge gaps and ensure its protection;
- Legal protection afforded to the property is stated to be sufficient in the context of Iraq, but law enforcement is a challenge, as is the ability to pass new laws. A list of applicable laws and resolutions is provided, including in relation to the regulation of the oil and gas sector. A high coordinating committee consisting of representatives from relevant ministries has been established to monitor extraction activities;
- Various activities have been carried out to support traditional Ma’adan “Marsh Arabs” communities, including socio-economic surveys, training focused on the sustainability and preservation of traditional practices, and integration of local communities in the planning of projects intending to enhance cooperation and conflict resolution, among others;
- Permanent staff has been allocated and trained in surveying, conservation and monitoring;
- A Higher Ministerial Committee for the Implementation of the Management Plan has been set up;
- The State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) has re-commenced partnerships with foreign archaeological missions at Uruk, Ur and Eridu, with focus on priority conservation plans and actions;
- At Uruk, plans for a drainage system to better protect the ziqqurat are being drawn up; a five-year research strategy is being developed that will include archaeological and geomorphological surveys; an archaeological survey of the buffer zone has already been carried out as a basis for regulating development; a Master Plan for visitation has been prepared, and a new Visitor Centre is being considered next to the entrance;
- At Ur, a detailed map of the sacred area has been created; documentation has been undertaken on the ziqqurat, the Dublamakh Temple, and the Royal Mausolea of the 3rd dynasty; a topographical laboratory is being established with Italian cooperation; visitation routes are also being considered;
- At Eridu, a landscape-based survey of the hinterland of the city is being planned to research the impact of climate change on the marshes, as is a survey of the city and a Conservation Plan; funding is being sought for a five-year research, excavation and enhancement project;
The State Party further notes that visitation is increasing, and that illegal bird hunting and overfishing remain significant challenges.
The State Party submitted to the World Heritage Centre a request for starting the design project in view of building a fishing pier in the marshes, in the Misan Governorate, with the aim of providing needed services for local communities.
On 9 May 2018, State Party provided additional information as follows:
- A decision issued by the Prime Minister’s office in March 2018 designating the Minister of Water resources to head the inter-ministerial “National Committee for the management of the Ahwar World Heritage Site”.
- Data on the water level in the marshes from 2009 to 2017.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies
The establishment of an inter-ministerial committee for the management of the property headed by the Minister of Water resources helps to clarify management responsibilities at the national level.
The completion of the SWLRI, and the recognition of the Iraqi marshlands as a legitimate water user are welcomed. While the State Party notes that 5.8 BCM of water are being allocated annually to the marshes based on hydrological modelling of southern Iraq, the minimum flows required by each of the components of the property are not provided, thereby not enabling an assessment of whether the minimum water flows needed to sustain the biodiversity and ecological processes of the property are being met. It is therefore recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to conduct further studies regarding minimum water flows needed and take measures accordingly to ensure these minimum flows are met. The ongoing efforts for reform of water governance in Iraq, and for establishing regional cooperation with regard to water influx are important developments. It is therefore recommended that the Committee welcome the ongoing collaboration between Iraq, Iran and Turkey and underline the need that this cooperation ensures the sustaining of the biodiversity and ecological processes of the property through the provision of adequate amounts of water to each of its natural components.
While acknowledging the prevailing conditions in Iraq and the challenges associated with governance, concern nevertheless remains regarding the inadequate level of legal protection afforded to the property. Currently, only one of the components has a clear protected area status (Central Marshes National Park). Therefore, the protection status of most of the property continues to not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines, representing a potential danger to its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines. This is emphasized by the State Party’s acknowledgement that law enforcement, illegal bird hunting, and overfishing remain significant challenges. The State Party provides no details of the scale of illegal bird hunting, but additional sources of information confirm the severity of the issue. It is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to address legal protection and enforcement, and sufficient management capacity to control illegal activities, as a matter of priority.
The vulnerability of the property to oil and gas developments continues to be of significant concern. Iraq’s largest oil fields are found in the same area where the property is located, and there is a strong interest in developing these. Recalling the Committee’s established position that oil and gas exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to make a permanent commitment not to explore or exploit for hydrocarbons inside the property, and to ensure that any hydrocarbon exploration or exploitation activities in the vicinity of the property do not impact on its OUV.
It is also recommended that the Committee reiterate its request for the State Party to complete the designation of all of the components of the property as protected areas, as a matter of utmost urgency, and ensure effective legal protection to regulate existing oil and gas concessions and other potentially impacting activities in the buffer zones of the property.
Given the lack of adequate consolidation and maintenance of the excavated areas of Uruk, Ur and Eridu at the time of inscription, and the on-going loss of the archaeological resource from erosion and collapse, the re-instatement of international archaeological teams at Uruk and Ur is welcomed as is the decision to concentrate on conservation. The work on creating detailed maps and surveys that has been started is absolutely essential in order to create a baseline for all future work, including monitoring.
The planned research on the settings of Uruk and Eridu should help inform a more appropriate delineation of their boundaries and buffer zones.
The increasing visitation of the property is also noted with concern. Local media reports suggest that large numbers of visitors are accessing sensitive areas both in the natural and in the cultural components of the property. Although the archaeological sites now have some human resources on site and works to consolidate the excavated remains are being undertaken, the conservation of the three archaeological sites is still not adequate for the arrival of visitors, as was the case at the time of inscription. It is noted that a Master Plan for visitors has been drafted for Uruk and that visitor routes are being planned for both Uruk and Ur.
What is still needed is the elaboration of full-fledged conservation plans for the archaeological attributes of the property that assess risks, problems, needs and priorities, and justify conservation approaches to be taken, coupled with an operational action plan. An overall tourism plan needs to be developed for the whole property to regulate visitation, ensure visitors’ safety, as well as sustainable and adequate tourism practices, infrastructure and facilities.
The projects focusing on the Ma’adan that have been undertaken are noted, but little detail is provided. It is recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to provide support for the maintenance of the traditional ecological knowledge held by the men and women of the Ma’adan “Marsh Arabs” communities, and for rights-based approaches to management, recognizing the customary use of the property. Such knowledge should also be applied for the new constructions planned to provide basic services within the marshes, and traditional construction techniques should be favored; projects for planned constructions should be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before their commencement.
Considering the concerns related to the biodiversity and ecological processes of the property in conjunction with water flows, continued lack of legal protection, and the challenges noted by the State Party relating to law enforcement, illegal bird hunting and overfishing at the natural sites, the continuing vulnerabilities of the cultural sites, and increasing pressure from visitation, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission to the property, in order to assess its current state of conservation and whether the conditions for its inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger are met.
Decision Adopted: 42 COM 7B.66
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/18/42.COM/7B.Add,
- Recalling Decision 40 COM 8B.16, adopted at its 40th session (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016),
- Welcomes establishment of an inter-ministerial committee for the management of the property, the completion of the Strategy for Water and Land Resources in Iraq (SWLRI) and the recognition of the Iraqi marshlands as a legitimate water user and, noting the competing demands for water between different users in Iraq, also welcomes the ongoing efforts for reform of water governance;
- Urges the State Party to take appropriate measures for providing the property with the adequate amount of water within its national capacity;
- Further welcomes the ongoing efforts towards the establishment of long-term water sharing agreements between the States Parties of Iraq, Iran and Turkey and strongly encourages all three States Parties to continue these efforts, so as to ensure the provision of adequate amounts of water for the property that can sustain its biodiversity, and considers that non-fulfilment of minimum water requirements could represent a potential danger to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines;
- While acknowledging the prevailing conditions in Iraq, notes with significant concern the continued absence of adequate legal protection for the majority of the natural components in the property, as well as the State Party’s statement that law enforcement remains a challenge, and also considers that this situation could represent a potential danger to the OUV of the property, in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines;
- Also notes with concern the significant challenges reported upon by the State Party, related to illegal bird hunting and overfishing, and further considers that in the continued absence of legal protection for most of the property and without sufficient management capacity, these issues are unlikely to be effectively controlled;
- Reiterates its request to the State Party to:
- Conduct further studies regarding minimum water flows needed to sustain the biodiversity and ecological processes of the property, and demonstrate that these water flows are being provided,
- Complete the designation of all of the natural components of the property as protected areas, as a matter of utmost urgency, and ensure effective legal protection to regulate oil and gas concessions, and other potentially impacting activities in the buffer zones of the property,
- Provide support for the maintenance of the traditional ecological knowledge held by the men and women of the Ma’adan “Marsh Arabs” communities, and for rights-based approaches to management, recognising the customary use of the property;
- Further notes with significant concern the continued vulnerability of the property to oil and gas developments and, recalling its established position that oil and gas exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status, strongly urges the State Party to make a permanent commitment not to explore for or exploit oil and gas within the property, and to ensure that any such activities outside the property do not cause a negative impact on its OUV;
- Welcomes furthermore the re-instatement of international archaeological teams at Uruk, Ur and Eridu, and the decision to concentrate on conservation; notes progress with work on detailed maps and surveys; nevertheless, in the light of the dire state of conservation at the time of inscription and on-going losses of archaeological layers, also urges the State Party to accelerate work on surveys and maps in order, to develop baseline data for all future work, including monitoring;
- Requests the State Party to put in place a structured approach for overall conservation work through the development of conservation plans for each of the three archaeological sites, coupled with operational action plans;
- Takes note with concern of the increasing tourism interest in the property in light of the lack of adequate consolidation and maintenance of the excavated areas of Uruk, Ur and Eridu at the time of inscription, the on-going loss of the archaeological remains from erosion and collapse, and the sensitive ecosystem of the marshes, also requests the State Party to develop and implement an overall tourism plan for the whole property, to regulate visitation, ensure visitors’ safety, and sustainable and adequate tourism practices, infrastructure and facilities;
- Recalls to the State Party its obligation to submit any planned construction projects to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before their commencement;
- Further requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission to the property, to assess its current state of conservation and the potential impact of water flow, oil and gas exploration and exploitation, illegal bird hunting, over-fishing, archaeological conservation needs, increased visitation and lack of adequate legal protection, on the property’s OUV;
- Requests furthermore the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2019, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd session in 2019.