On 23 February 2010, the States Parties submitted a detailed joint report on the State of Conservation of the property as requested in Decision 32 COM 7B.4. The report addresses the implementation and financing of the joint management plan for the property, and the threats related to urban development, tourism numbers, and invasive species. The report also includes a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the property, and the following information on the implementation of the recommendations of the 2006 monitoring missions:
a) Establishment of a Joint Ministerial Committee and implementation and financing of the joint management plan
The States Parties report that a Joint Ministerial Committee, a Joint Technical Committee and a Joint Site Management Committee are in place following the signing of the Joint Integrated Management Plan (JIMP) in November 2007. However, they also note that in the subsequent period the Committees have not met regularly, as planned, due to high institutional turnover and “changes in political appointments and economic meltdown.” Despite these limitations a total of five meetings of the different Committees have been held, and minutes provided show a good level of attendance and full agendas on key issues. The State Parties indicate that following improvement in the economic situation and staff recruitment, it is envisaged that the Committees will meet as planned in 2010/ 11. The State Parties also report on the implementation of the management plan, in particular the control of invasive species, the implementation of joint anti-poaching activities, tourism pressure, urban development, noise and water pollution and water abstraction. Some of these issues are discussed below. No information is provided about the critical issue of funding for the implementation of the management plan.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN reiterate the importance of the operation of the JIMP for this transboundary site, and welcome the progress achieved. However, unless there is established and stable management capacity in the two management authorities, and a regular programme of meetings, then a meaningful programme of joint management will remain elusive. The State Party report contains limited specific information regarding either adequacy of budgets, staffing and resource levels to be able to judge the degree to which the property is effectively managed.
b) Moratorium on the construction and development of tourism infrastructure, facilities or services within the property
The States Parties report that there has been pressure to develop within the property, especially on the river banks. Both States Parties have maintained buffer zones (150m on the Zimbabwean side and 50m on the Zambian side). The report states that there have been no uncontrolled developments since 2007 and that developments which took place have been within the parameters of the JIMP. An audit and a number of development plans are in place to control and guide development at the property and in the surrounding area. An attempt to resuscitate the Combination Master Plan in Zimbabwe was made in 2008, but the funding available for its implementation is reported to have been eroded by hyperinflation. There are no reported plans to develop housing in the CHOGM Park.
IUCN received additional information indicating continued visual intrusion of telephone towers and hotel developments on the Zambian side of the Falls. Two telephone towers can be seen from all vantage points on the Zimbabwean side of the property, and hotel roofs and other developments on the Zambian shore also create impacts and could be better camouflaged.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the attention being paid by both States Parties to the issue of uncontrolled development, but consider that the ongoing pressures and challenges to the planning systems around the property remain an important area of concern. Continued efforts to both maintain strong development control policies, and implement a joint programme of assessment and improvement to maintain the visual quality of the property is essential, in the context of the JIMP and the supporting management arrangements.
The World Heritage Centre also received a copy of a letter sent to the Ministry of Tourism by Hiflyer Zambia, a company wanting to operate a balloon at the Falls, proposing to revive the project at an alternative site close to the property. A copy of a letter sent by the National Heritage Conservation Committee (NHCC) was also received, advising the Minister that this project should be considered inappropriate if it is to be implemented anywhere near the property, in line with Decision 31 COM 7B.4 of the World Heritage Committee and the recommendations of the 2006 mission. A further copy of a letter was received from the company dated 26 March, claiming for damages and penalties. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN reiterate the recommendation of the 2006 mission that any tethered balloon projects close to the property adversely impact its visual integrity, because when raised the balloon is likely to appear within the viewing corridor of the Falls.
c) Development of indicators which can be assessed during the monitoring of the state of conservation of the property and better address management and protection concerns.
No information is provided on the implementation of this recommendation.
As mentioned above, the report provides an update on a number of management issues:
d) Tourism pressures
The States Parties report touches very briefly on the estimated carrying capacity of the property (up to 6000 visitors per day), and consider that the property is not exceeding this capacity on an annual basis. Twenty boats and nine helicopters are said to be operating in the property since 2007. The States Parties report that the flights over the property conform to joint rules established in 1996. The States Parties also report that the completion of the Chamabondo helipad in 2010 will lead to a significant reduction in noise pollution by removing the take off site to a location 13km from the property. An entry sign displaying the World Heritage emblem has been established in Zimbabwe and is being reviewed in Zambia.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the effective management of tourism and on site visitors in this iconic World Heritage property is of the utmost importance. Whilst an annual estimate of carrying capacity is one possible gauge of the issue, the requirements to assure a high quality, safe and satisfying visitor experience require considerable planning beyond simply considering the numbers of visitors coming to the property. It is clear from the minutes of the joint meetings that a number of issues remain under consideration.
e) Invasive species
The States Parties report that the threat from invasive alien species to the integrity of the property continues to be serious. Species such as Lantana camara are displacing the native vegetation within the property and its buffer zones and also threaten the stability and visual appearance of the gorge walls, as well as impacting on nesting sites of the rare Taita Falcon. The two States Parties have been trialling different methods of control including mechanical, chemical and biological techniques. They report around 20% of the infested area has been cleared mechanically and that this technique is showing positive results, while the efficacy of different techniques is still being investigated as part of ongoing work.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the progress in addressing the issue of invasive species but are concerned about the continued funding of the work. To date, most activities have been undertaken on a project basis, which is not a sustainable means of addressing the long term nature of this threat. The larger project is a Zambian UNEP-GEF project which will come to an end in July 2010, but is anticipated to stop before then due to the lack of project funding. There is a need for both States Parties to commit to funding ongoing monitoring, clearing and replanting of native vegetation, otherwise, with the exception of the possible hope of an eventual solution through bio-control, the progress made in the last five years is likely to rapidly be lost. In addition, management of invasive species needs to be expanded to consider a number of other species that are not currently the subject of targeted efforts. IUCN notes that most of the active partners in these projects are IUCN member organizations, and would be pleased to engage with the State Party of Zambia representatives on possible approaches to ensure that current efforts are maintained. Clearly, the significant visitor revenues to the property could be considered as one source of funding. Given the impact of the invasive species on key aspects of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, the action required in this area is of a high priority.
f) Other conservation issues of concern
The States Parties also report on action to counteract poaching, including joint operations, combined security meetings, ranger training courses and the provision of fencing to control access. Increased joint anti-poaching operations are planned. The report also notes water pollution and abstraction issues, and how these are mitigated. The Livingstone main sewerage ponds in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambia) are noted to be in need of rehabilitation, and are leaking. Otherwise, the regulation of both sewage treatment and boat toilets are in place. In relation to abstraction, the report notes water sharing arrangements and the systems to vary water use from the Victoria Falls power station according to river levels.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the importance of continued action to maintain the water and pollution management systems that are in place.
In conclusion, World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the substantive progress made by the States Parties in their management of the property in challenging financial times. They commend the degree of transnational cooperation which has been maintained despite the difficulties of resourcing these efforts. However, significant challenges remain to secure effective and durable transboundary management of the property, in particular the control on urban and tourism infrastructure development, the control of invasive species and visitor management. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN reiterate the recommendation of the 2006 mission that indicators be developed to monitor the state of conservation of the property and better address management and protection concerns. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend in this respect to use the management effectiveness evaluation methodology, which was developed and tested in a number of natural World Heritage properties. Continued and greater international support to establishing the effective management of the property would be highly beneficial.