On 29 January 2010, a report on the state of conservation of Aksum was submitted by the State Party. The report addressed Decision 32 COM 7B.46 of the World Heritage Committee. A joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission visited Aksum on 4-8 February 2010. The main recommendations of the mission relate to the need for the definition of boundaries, for a retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, for a Memorandum of Understanding on governance arrangements, for qualified staff, for planning controls, for a Management Plan, and to address the structural instability of Stele 3 and related rising water table issues. The mission also commented on the re-installation of Stele 2, and site interpretation and the need to control encroachment and development and in particular the planned construction of a large museum within the property.
a) Provision of a map showing the boundary of the property and the buffer zone:
The State Party reports that the boundary was discussed and a map drawn at the site management capacity building workshop organised by the World Heritage Centre in May 2008; this map constitutes a first draft of the property’s boundaries and buffer zone. The Mission considered there was an urgent need to formalise the boundaries.
b) Rising Water Table at Stelae Park:
The mission reported that as the rise in the water table or water seepage in the Bricks Arch Tomb continues and drainage using an electric pump appears to be only a temporary solution; a study by a civil engineer and a hydrologist must be carried out to identify the reasons and seek ways to divert drainage away from the funerary chambers. The temporary structural supports for Stele 3 must now be seen as permanent until there is a better understanding of the causes and possible remedial action.
The World Heritage Committee, at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008) had invited the State Party to address the water table issue through an international assistance request. The mission members reiterated this possibility during their meeting with the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage Director General. The State Party reports that it proposes to work with the University of Aksum to prepare this request.
c) Implementation of the site management road map and necessary protective measures:
The State Party reported that the Management Plan is yet to be done. The Mission considered that although the central, regional and local authorities have consultative and participatory working methods, management decisions are taken ad-hoc and the need for a site management plan is pressing. They noted that UNESCO had undertaken a workshop for the management of Aksum, which had produced a useful starting point for the process. One of the reasons to explain the delay in the preparation of the Management Plan appeared to be the lack of funding and expertise. The Mission suggested that an International Assistance request could be made to support the elaboration of a Management Plan.
The mission noted the State Party’s decision to open an adequately staffed office of the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) at the property - ARCCH being the statutory body established in terms of the Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage Proclamation No 209/2000 to manage national sites including World Heritage properties. The mission considered that there was an urgent need to fill the staff vacancies in the critical fields of Conservation, Heritage Management, and Archaeology.
d) Legislative and planning protection:
The Mission considered that most urgently protective laws and regulations are needed, as currently the only protective framework for the property is the amended Antiquities Law. The mission was told that a Master Plan is currently being prepared. The Mission considered that there was an urgent need for urban planning regulations to protect heritage and to ensure that urban processes are controlled to avoid future planned constructions in the property such as the Church Museum and urban encroachment at the Gudit Stelae Park, as well as to ensure that constructions such as the Site Museum built in the Stelae Park in 2005 will not be repeated. It was suggested that advice might be needed to ensure that such controls might reflect international best practices and experience on heritage management in living cities.
The State Party reported that a draft proclamation for protection of the site has been prepared and presented to Parliament for adoption, but no further details are provided.
e) Retrospective draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:
The State Party reports that at the capacity building workshop referred to above a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value including conditions of integrity and authenticity was developed by the participants but notes that the State Party would need technical assistance to finalize its drafting.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS commend the State Party for the great achievement in reinstating Stele 2 between 2007 and 2009 after its return from Italy.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider that the Mission has highlighted a number of issues that have to be addressed with some urgency. These relate to the need for urban planning regulations, more structured management set out based on an agreed Statement of Outstanding Universal Value and adequate professional staff, the need for research on the rising water table and water ingress, as well as for a sustainable consolidation solution for the Stele 3 foundation.
The structured management and urban planning is needed in order to:
· Halt the urban encroachment at the Gudit Stelae field;
· Maintain protection of the integrity of the archaeological remains in the living Town;
· Conduct test excavations prior to any building works;
· Restrict new construction within the buffer zone;
· Control planned construction within the World Heritage property and for major changes within the buffer zone;
· Ensure that the physical interventions of the World Bank Tourism Development project within the property do not hinder its integrity;
· Improve when possible, the site presentation through minimalist interventions.
There is an urgent need to create a management plan that will link the management of the property to the sustainable development of the wider setting of the property and which could encompass the planning, use and management of structures, archaeological remains and landscape. The mission noted the complexity and importance of dealing with the Aksum Town modern settlement built over the archaeological remains, and reported on relocation of inhabitants intended to allow excavation and opening to visitors of three main palaces that form part of the inscribed property. Such activities need to be considered in an Interpretation and Visitor Management Plan for the property, as part of the overall Management Plan.
Development of the Management Plan needs to continue the commendable participatory and consultative process used at the local level as noted by the 2010 mission, and to foster and strengthen a shared vision amongst the major stakeholders to avoid parallel and conflicting decisions.
The draft Retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value including the conditions of integrity and authenticity needs to be finalised and submitted to the World Heritage Centre. This is a fundamental precursor for the satisfactory development of the Management Plan.