At its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007), the World Heritage Committee noted that new laws had been drafted for the property and requested the State Party to provide further details. It also congratulated the State Party on progress with the management plan, including support for community involvement, emerging local initiatives in the development of local plans for specific water management systems, and the formation of an inter-disciplinary Management Committee to take forward the management plan process. It requested the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre the medium term management plan when it is developed and to report to the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session. On 23 March 2009, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report which provided details of progress on the following:
a) Protection Laws
Royal Decree 1429 (2008) is for the organisation and protection of the Aflaj property inscribed on the World Heritage list. This law protects the entire Aflaj system, both underground and above ground channels, from the area where water is collected to its distribution around the fields, the environment around the channels, and archaeological buildings, monuments and agricultural land within the property. Certain types of activity are prohibited, while modifications and alteration that might be allowed need to be approved by the National Committee for the Management and Development of the Alfaj. The are penalties set out for non-compliance.
b) Short-term Action Plan and Development of Medium-term management plan
There is now much greater understanding and knowledge of the property as a result of studies which have identified key issues and priorities for the cultural landscape, built heritage, socio-economic context, governance, management, tourism and visitor management, as a basis for the development of the management plan. The Ministry of Heritage and Culture is undertaking a survey of traditional settlements in the property, as part of a comprehensive survey across Oman. The Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources has launched a pilot project to document oral traditions associated with water distribution and the way science of astronomy was used for the timing of water shares. This covers six aflaj, including two that are part of the property. The management plan process has increased understanding of the rationale for the boundaries and buffer zone and set out the parameters for a detailed topographical study.
The two Ministries have set out international standards for the conservation of the Aflaj channels, including the use of traditional materials and techniques. Buildings and settlements that are key areas for conservation have been identified that will allow urgent stabilisation works to be undertaken. Good practice on materials and process for traditional buildings have also been set out. The Ministries have engaged in wide consultation with local stakeholders and studies of the socio-economic context have focused on sustainability of the local communities at each of the sites within the property.
The final draft of the management plan sets out a vision for the property, together with medium term objectives and short-term actions. The Plan should be submitted shortly to the World Heritage Centre.
Various activities have taken place to promote understanding of the complex socio-cultural activities associated with the Aflaj system. These include an exhibition in Muscat, two international TV documentaries, a book and the development of a web-site for all the Aflaj sites within the property.
d) Restoration projects
Three major restoration projects have been approved for the period 2009-2011. These are the restoration of 137 metres of an underground channel at Falaj Daris in Nizwa Town using traditional materials and techniques; restoration of a 135 metre aqueduct at Falaj al Khatmin; and the restoration of stone steps down to the open channels at Falaj Aljila.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies acknowledge the substantial progress made in putting in place legal protection for all aspects of the property. They also note the considerable progress made in creating a well-researched framework as a basis for the development of the management plan, in promoting wider understanding of the value and attributes of the property, in involving local communities and their expertise, and in supporting the restoration of Aflaj channels and their associated buildings. The management plan, once submitted will be reviewed by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies.