At its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007), the World Heritage Committee agreed to defer consideration of delisting the property form the World Heritage list if specific and agreed measures were taken to reverse the severe decline in the conservation and economy of the city through a legal and institutional framework being set up in one year (2008) and the physical degradation stopped immediately and reversed within two years (2009)”. The World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008) agreed to allow the State Party more time to demonstrate progress in the light of joint German Technical Assistance (GTZ), Yemeni Government and Social Fund for Development (SFD)rehabilitation project, whose first phase is due for completion in 2010, but reiterated the need for a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value to be developed as a basis for progress and adequate monitoring to demonstrate the reversal of decline.
On 1 February 2009, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party. A World Heritage Centre mission visited the property in January 2009, at the request of the State Party, to be shown the progress that has been made. The State Party report provides an overview of measures taken in response to the World Heritage Committee’s requests over the past two years and the detailed recommendations of the ICOMOS mission in 2007 about the corrective measures.
A summary is given below. Overall the report stresses that improvements are now visible and the situation is changing: the city seems to be now on the track to reverse the trend of deterioration and to improve in the future. But there is still a long way to go before this is achieved and national and international support needs to continue. In conclusion the State Party requests that the World Heritage Committee allow more time and specifically that the property is kept on the List of World Heritage in Danger for an additional period of three years before an assessment of progress is made.
a) Adequate legal and institutional framework set up by in one year by 2008
The Cabinet decree, issued in November 2007, created a Higher Ministerial Coordination Committee for Zabid (HMCCZ). This Committee now meets regularly and the role of the various governmental stakeholders, such as Ministries of Culture, Tourism, Public Works and Awqaf, the Planning Authority are now clearly defined and budgets allocated to each of them.
The Minister of Culture is providing additional annual allocations from the Fund for Cultural Development, to the local office of GOPHCY while SFD/GTZ is for the duration of their project, supporting 6 architects and other experts, together with the provision of capacity building support. Today, GOPHCY office hosts 28 staff members and is said to be in a position for the first time to fulfil its obligations towards safeguarding the city.
The enactment of the heritage protection law is still awaited.
b) Completion of the draft conservation plan
An architectural survey carried out in 2008 by master-degree students from a French University and co-financed by GTZ and the World Heritage Fund, now offers a classification of plots according to their heritage. A GIS system is being prepared that will allow the production of thematic maps and help with the finalisation of the conservation plan. The survey has shown that more than 70% of the original heritage of the city is still there even though in a bad state of conservation and that the previous estimates of 50% remaining were inaccurate. The survey also suggested an approach to conservation and the aim and suggested contents of a conservation plan.
c) Physical degradation stopped immediately and reversed within two years: Stopping poor new construction and further degradation of protected heritage assets
In September 2008, a Presidential letter was sent to the Governor of Hodeida, instructing him to take all the required actions in order to stop violations, ban new constructions and monitor the progress of the ongoing safeguarding measures.
The absence of clear rules and regulations defining what is permitted and what constitutes a violation has been, until now, at the very core of the challenges facing the conservation of the towns’ buildings. The SFD/GTZ project, is working with GOPHCY to revise and renew the regulations, In order to better deal with violations, a number of positive steps have been achieved:
- making the stopping of new violations a highest priority;
- preparing an inventory of violations,
- demolition of illegal constructions;
- strengthening a rapid response to violations;
- developing and beginning to enforce appropriate regulations that permit construction;
- opening new areas for construction outside the city (new development zone to the north-east of Zabid).
In the meanwhile, illegal interventions have only partially been stopped. The procedure for the demolition of four illegal buildings has been launched by the Director of GOPHCY-Zabid. The need for strong support from the authorities, in particular from the police, is absolutely essential for its success.
d) Measures to improve material, methods and capacity building
GTZ, GOPHCY and SFD are now implementing an incentive-based rehabilitation program (up to 40% of the rehabilitation costs are funded by the project), that aims to rehabilitate some 200 houses during the first three years of the Project. Fifty have already been implemented and there are now more than 400 applications to join the programme.
During the first year, traditional builders were surveyed and a profile of their skills established. A number of specialists restorers have been trained and are now working in the field. A wood conservation laboratory has been set up to restore the old wooden elements of the city. A team of eight women from Zabid has been trained and has been carrying out wood restoration for more than six months. The production of bricks has improved due to a new scheme guaranteeing that all bricks produced would be purchased by the SFD/GTZ project, if not sold to local consumers.
The souq rehabilitation subsidy scheme has recently been started.
The mission noted that the pilot phase for a Storm Water Drainage and Street Paving Project had been completed. While the project is noteworthy and necessary, the members of the mission (both World Heritage Centre and GTZ) remained unconvinced of the implementation of the pilot segment which appears to not correspond to the original study and design proposed, nor its materials and techniques. In particular cement appears to have been used for pointing and render.
e) Adoption of Zabid Urban Development Plan
f) Statement of Outstanding Universal Value
g) Statement of the Desired state of conservation for the property based on its Outstanding Universal Value
Those issues have not been addressed in the report.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that progress has been made in gaining political will and commitment to the conservation of Zabid and that a much more positive approach appears to have been generated through the SFD/GTZ project. The mandate of this project is to improve social capacity and economic development for poverty alleviation, and conservation of cultural heritage is supported if it becomes a basis for development and economic gain for the local population. Nevertheless difficult challenges remain in terms of defining parameters for what constitutes violation and providing the necessary rules and regulations within the framework of a conservation plan to allow GOPHCY staff to have a clear mandate and to allow other departments to support their actions.
Overall the Danger listing appears to have been beneficial in galvanising support for conservation of buildings and promoting economic regeneration. However the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the timescale for addressing the two main issues set by the World Heritage Committee must remain tight in order to demonstrate that the serious decline has been reversed.