The State Party submitted a state of conservation report of the property on 2 February 2012. The State Party also provided a new Environmental and Social Impact Study dated November 2010 for the GEOVIC mining project, together with a biodiversity management plan to mitigate the direct and indirect effects.
A joint World Heritage Centre and IUCN mission visited the property from 27 February to 5 March 2012, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011). The mission report is available on line at the following Internet address : http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/36COM/.
The State Party report provides information on the measures taken to create a zonage system and to encourage ecotourism activities to assist in the development of local communities, as well as the measures implemented to establish a monitoring system for the property, development of research to improve management, and the establishment of a surveillance mechanism. It also provides information on the level of the main threats to the property, in particular poaching, mining projects, the new dam project in the vicinity of the property and an industrial agriculture project.
The mission noted that since the reactive monitoring missions of 2006 and 2009, the pressures exercised on the property and its periphery are still current and have even increased. Furthermore, the State Party report highlights important new threats, notably the granting of exploration licenses for iron ore mining covering approximately 20% of the area of the Dja Faunal Reserve (DFR) as well as several exploration permits in its immediate periphery. Mention must also be made of the construction of a dam on the River Dja, north-west of the DFR, the waters of which would flood a part of the property, and an industrial development agriculture project that could have major indirect effects on the property. All these threats were noted by the mission team.
a) GEOVIC mining activity
The mission visited the mining concession for the exploitation of cobalt granted to the GEOVIC Cameroon Company, that covers an area of more than 150,000 ha at roughly 40 km to the east of the property. The World Heritage Committee, at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010) had urgently requested the State Party to suspend the implantation work for GEOVIC mining activities until the conclusion of a new Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).
The mission studied the ESIA and considers that this new study as well as the environmental management plan does not meet the provisions of the World Heritage Committee. The study only concerns the perimeter of the exploitation license and does not take into account the proximity of the property, nor its vulnerability. The few inventories carried out do not provide sufficient data regarding the state of the area, in particular the local biodiversity, nor the direct or indirect environmental risks that may affect the property due to this exploitation. No mapping of the critical habitats of flagship or threatened species, present in the exploitation area, (ex. Gorilla and chimpanzee) had been conducted and no conflict prevention measures with species, nor reduction of this type of risk, is proposed. Further, the environmental management plan does not specify any actions or methods, or means that will be implemented by the operator, to prevent, reduce and compensate the negative effects of its activities in the exploitation area, in the periphery and within the DFR.
The mission noted that the situation on the ground has not evolved since the last reactive monitoring mission in 2009, and that no new infrastructure has been built for financial and institutional reasons.
The mission reiterated the evident risks of pollution to the water catchment area of the River Dja by the intermediary of the River Edje where the water necessary for the treatment of raw materials will be pumped and where the spills and releases from products originating from the exploitation site, notably industrial products, will be evacuated. The project will also have major indirect impacts on the integrity of the property linked to the massive influx of poulations and movement on the site and in its periphery of numerous persons and vehicles (estimated at 1,300-1,500 additional persons divided into 3-4 villages). Other collateral impacts of the mine on the property include the leaching and corrosion of the ground, risks caused by the transport of dangerous products (ex. sulfates, acids, heavy metals), the probable increase in bush hunting and poaching, the accidential introduction of invasive species, the degradation and fragmentation of natural habitats of species as vulnerable and important as the large apes, the area for these species which extends to the DFR.
b) Mining license in the property and its neighbouring territories
The mission was also informed of the existence of other mining licenses granted on territories neighbouring the property and even inside this one: (i) a license was granted to the Venture Capital Plc company for the exploration of a territory covering about 20% of the area of the property, for the exploitation of iron ore. This license authorizes the beneficiary to conduct ”sub-surface” work that would be totally incompatible with the maintenance of the integrity of the property; (ii) numerous other exploitation licenses have also been granted all around the property and sometimes in its immediate boundary. A limestone deposit was also recently discovered under the bed of the River Dja, in the immediate south-west periphery of the property, adjacent to the village of Bi. The eventual exploitation of the limestone deposit could lead the deplacement of the bed of the River Dja, the limit of the property.
The mission noted that the management body was often not aware of the existence of infrastructure and work projects granted and validated by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Technological Development as well as by the Ministry of the Environment. This issue raises the more general one of the coordination of interministerial actions and coherence of public policies in this region, and in particular the development of extractive activities.
The mission considers that these different exploration projects would have significant impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property.
c) Construction of the Mekin Dam
The mission visited the dam, mentioned in the State Party report, which is under construction on the River Dja, located at 100 km to the north-west of the DFR, the retained water of which would flood part of the property. The “Mekin” project is currently being constructed at the mouth of the Mekin and Dja Rivers and its water retainment capacity will be 940 millon cubic metres. A 12 Megawatts hydroelectric plant and high tension electric power supply line of 63 Kilowatts will be built in the immediate vicinity of the property. The mission considers that the Mekin works and their exploitation will directly affect the ecological functioning of the property: a part of this will be flooded by the dam retainment and will suffer intertidal effects. Furthermore, the massive influx of populations that will surely result from the collateral effects on the property, notably the facilitation of access, spontaneous installations, illegal forestry and agricultural activities, hunting, fishing, poaching. The mission was also informed of a “semi-industrial” fishing project. The mission consulted the ESIA that highlighted the effects on the biodiversity but it notes that the Environmental Management and Social Plan contains no measures to monitor the effects of the project on the wildlife and flora nor any valid action plan destined to foresee, reduce and compensate the direct and indirect effects of this infrastructure on the property. The mission concludes that the dam will therefore have a significant impact on the OUV of the property.
d) Industrial agriculture exploitation and forestry exploitation in the periphery of the property
The mission met the responsibles of the rubber plantation project, mentioned in the State Party report, implemented and located in the immediate vicinity of the DFR over an area of 45,200 ha. The concession decree also provides for eventual palm oil and cocoa plantations in partnership with local communities. The project should create more than 6,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs. The company considers that in total, the site should attract approximately 30,000 new inhabitants to the exploitation site and its vicinity. The mission considers that this project will eventually and directly increase human pressure on the property. This pressure has already increased during the present preparatory phase of the site. In addition, the influx of a massive population will probably have new secondary and important impacts on the property, notably an increase in pressure on its natural resources by fishing, gathering, hunting of bush meat and poaching of threatened species. The mission notes that the risks in the increase of poaching in the DFR are identified in the ESIA, but no measure to control this is foreseen.
e) Poaching for the bush meat markets
Previous reactive monitoring missions have reported the threats represented by the hunting of bush meat on the OUV of the property and the status of wildlife species in particular. The mission confirmed that poaching is recurrent inside the property, notably in the eastern sector of Lomié where an organized network in the commercial trade of species appears to function with the support of local elites. Currently, it is difficult to know the exact status of the wildlife populations in the property. A status evaluation of great apes conducted in 2010 over roughy 13% of the area of the DFR, in the southern sector of Somalomo, concluded in the presence of a “quite large” population of great apes, apparently stable over the last fifteen years. Although these results are encouraging, the mission estimated that the reduced area covered by this study and its focalization uniquely on great apes did not enable the establishment of general conclusions on the state and evolutionary tendences of wildlife in the property and its vicinity. The same study recommends the organization of a systematic monitoring of these populations in the framework of the management of the DFR; a protocol was proposed on this occasion but the implementation, unfortunately, has not begun to date due to a lack of human, technical and financial capacities. The mission recommends the State Party to make available the necessary means to enable the start of this monitoring of wildlife throughout the entire DFR property. It would enable a better knowledge of the state of conservation and especially the evolutionary tendencies of the major large mammals of the property for the effective management and preservation of the OUV of the property.
f) Implementation of the recommendations of the 2009 mission
In Decision 34 COM 7B.1, the Committee adopted a series of measures to be implemented by the State Party for the preparation of an emergency plan. The mission evaluated the state of progress of their implementation and this evaluation is detailed in the mission report. Despite the willingness of the management body of the site, the mission notes that in general little progress has been accomplished since the last reactive monitoring mission due to a complete lack of human, technical and financial means allocated to the manager of the property. Currently, there is one agent for 10,520 ha to be monitored and controlled, without any transportation. Therefore, the surveillance is limited to a few days a month of presence of the ecoguards in the field. The mission recommends that a general staff reconstruction plan combined with an important effort to increase staff be undertaken. Due to an insufficient budget, only a part of the management plan for the 2008-2012 period has been implemented, and likewise, the monitoring of wildlife populations has not begun. The mission notes that the budgetary situation has worsened since the last reactive monitoring mission in 2009. However, the mission notes the important efforts to ensure the demarcation of the boundaries of the property, but it notes that this work should be verified because anomalies have been reported during its visit to the field, comprising important errors in the delimitation and marking of the property on the ground.