The Simien National Park was inscribed under criteria (vii) and (x) for its spectacular afro-alpine landscape and endangered endemic species. Severe declines in the endemic Ethiopian Wolf and Walia ibex populations and expanding agriculture and grazing in 80% of the property led to inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1996. The most recent monitoring mission of 2006 proposed four key corrective measures, as note above, as well as a number of other recommendations. A mission was requested by the Committee at its 32nd session, however it was not possible to find a suitable time for the mission and hence, it has been necessary for this to be postponed with the agreement of the State Party, until after the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee.
A comprehensive report was received from the State Party on 18 February 2009, with information on the status of implementation of the corrective measures and of the other recommendations of the 2006 mission.
The report and the letter present the following information concerning the implementation of the corrective measures:
a) Finalize the extension of SMNP with the interlinking corridors
In its 2008 report, the State Party confirmed that it had completed the demarcation in the field of the extension to include the Silki Yared – Kiddis Yared Mountains and the Ras Dejen Mountain. The remaining issue is the relocation of Arkuasiye village, an illegally established settlement situated in the corridor connecting the existing National Park with the extension area. An International Assistance request was approved to support this relocation in June 2008. The State party report notes that it has established a steering committee for the relocation, chaired by the head of the North Gondor Zone Administrator and a task force whose members include representatives of the village. The task force was able to develop a mutually agreed plan for the relocation of homes to Cheroleba. Some relocation of homes has begun and the State Party hopes to conclude the process by June.
b) Re-gazettment of the new National Park boundaries
While the new Park boundaries have been demarcated in the field, they still need to be legalized through a re-gazettment. The State Party report mentions that a draft proclamation with supportive documents has been prepared in Amharic and is being translated into English for submission of both versions to the Government. The report does not provide an indication of the projected timeframe for the new boundaries to be legalized.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that once the re-gazettment is completed, the State Party would need to submit a boundary modification to the World Heritage Committee to request the recognition of the newly gazetted Park by the World Heritage Committee.
c) Develop a strategy and action plan to significantly reduce the impact of livestock grazing on the conservation of the property and secure funding for its implementation
The 2006 mission considered uncontrolled grazing as one of the major threats to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Recognizing that it would be difficult to completely halt this grazing, at least in the short term, the mission recommended to develop a strategy to better manage the problem and limit its impact on the OUV and integrate this strategy into the new management plan.
A draft strategy to address this recommendation was already submitted to the World Heritage Centre before the 32nd session. This included zonation of the property to establish areas where grazing will be excluded, the introduction of stocking limits, the reduction of livestock numbers through the introduction of more intensive animal husbandry techniques, the improvement of veterinary services and the enhancement of community – park collaboration. The State Party reported that the estimated cost of implementing the strategy is USD 11 million over a 5 year period making the mobilization of significant additional financial resources necessary. The State Party did not report on any steps towards implementation of the strategy at this stage.
The State Party submitted a new version of the draft management plan for the property in early 2009. However, compared to an earlier draft of May 2008, the activities to address the grazing problem have been removed from the management plan. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN were informed that this was done by the planning team as the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority apparently objected to include them, given that according to the national legislation, grazing is prohibited in National Parks. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are concerned about this development as the plan now includes no strategy or activities to manage the problem or alternatively enforce the prohibition. It also puts into question on the status of the grazing strategy. This important issue will have to be addressed during the next monitoring mission. The report does not provide any information if the management plan has been approved.
d) Develop a strategy and action plan to support the development of alternative livelihoods for the people living within the park as well as its immediate vicinity and secure funding for its implementation
As mentioned in previous reports, a detailed and comprehensive proposal for an alternative livelihood project was developed with financial support from the World Heritage Fund. The proposal has identified 29 viable business activities that could generate up to 725 job opportunities. However, implementation is estimated to require USD 8.7 million and the State Party notes that international funding assistance is required to start it.
e) Other issues:
On the Bwahit – Dilyibza road, the State Party report confirms that the Environmental Impact Assessment for the chosen road alignment, which does not cross the new park extension, has now been concluded.The State Party mentions that the study includes recommendations for limiting impacts, but the recommendations are not included in the report. The State Party further confirms that measures to control vehicular traffic on the Debark – Mekane Road, which does cross the property, are being implemented These include closure of the road from 6 pm to 8 am, checkpoint at the entry points to the park and measures to control soil erosion. There are also continued plans to re-align this road outside the property, and certain local districts (Woreda) have started preliminary work, but additional financial resources will have to be identified to ensure its construction.
The report further notes that the populations of Walia ibex and Ethiopian Wolf continue to grow and further mentions that the operating budget of the park has also increased since the 2006 mission, and that the revenue from tourism has also increased. .
The World Heritage Centre received information that the State Party has recently decided to shift the management of the property again from the regional level (Amhara Parks Development and Protection Authority - PaDPA) to the federal level (Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority). No information is provided on this in the report. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that if this is the case, it will be important to ensure that the momentum gained for the conservation of the property since it was managed by PaDPA is maintained and that sufficient resources are provided from the federal budget.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the State Party has made progress in the implementation of the corrective measures and other recommendations of the 2006 monitoring mission. The extension of the boundaries of the National Park is a key element to preserve the Outstanding Universal Value, as the majority of the Walia ibex and Ethiopian Wolf actually occur outside the current boundaries of the World Heritage property. It is therefore very important to complete this process through the re-gazettment, and adjust the boundaries of the World Heritage property once they have been legalized. At the same time, the two main threats to the property, the agricultural use of part of the property and the grazing of livestock need to be addressed, as they affect its values and integrity. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the important strategies that have been developed to address these issues but are concerned that the grazing strategy is not reflected in the management plan. The planned mission will have to clarify if the strategy still applies or what other measures are planned to address this key threat. It is further crucial to identify the resources to implement the strategies.
IUCN also notes that it has received reports regarding the construction of essential infrastructure in the region. While welcoming the increased availability of roads, schools and medical buildings for the local population, IUCN recommends that the State Party ensure that these facilities are located outside the boundaries of the extended National Park.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the difficulty in arranging the mission to the property in May 2009, which is now planned for July 2009.
As part of its report in 2008, the State Party had also submitted an initial draft of a revised Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN propose that these drafts be reviewed during the proposed monitoring mission, and will be presented for approval at the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee. The establishment of the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger and the findings of the mission will be important in providing a clear basis for the World Heritage Committee to consider the possible removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 34th session in 2010.