A report on the state of conservation of its part of the property was submitted by the State Party of Côte d’Ivoire in March 2008. The State Party of Guinea did not submit the report requested by the World Heritage Committee (Decision 31 COM 7A.3).
The monitoring mission to the Côte d’Ivoire part of the property has been postponed since 2007 due to security concerns and is now planned for June 2008. The results of the mission to Côte d’Ivoire, will be presented orally at the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee.
The State Party report confirms that in spite of the peace agreement, management activities in the reserve have not yet re-started. This is due to the inaccessibility of the area for park staff, as access roads are degraded and park infrastructure is still occupied by former rebel fighters. Poaching continues to be the main threat, although it is reported to have decreased as a result of the permanent presence of “village ecologists”, working for researchers of Tokyo university. There is no agricultural encroachment.
In December 2007, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN received reports, describing the signing of a joint venture agreement between Tata Steel Production Company and the Côte d’Ivoire Society for Mining Development (Sociéte d’Etat pour le Developpement Minier de la Côte d’Ivoire - SODEMI) for the development of iron ore deposits in the Ivorian part of the Nimba mountains. The World Heritage Centre wrote a lettre on 21 December 2007 to the Permanent Delegation of Côte d’Ivoire, requesting information on the agreement and if the planned activities would affect the property. To date, no official reply was received on this lettre other than an acknowledgment of receipt. However, the Permanent Delegation convened a meeting on 14 March 2008 between the World Heritage Centre and officials from SODEMI and Tata Steel. In the meeting, the Director General of SODEMI and the representative of Tata explained that the Government had not informed them about the World Heritage status of the area. They confirmed that an agreement was signed for exploration activities to survey the iron deposits in the property, but that no formal agreement had been reached to start mining operations.
The State Party report of Côte d’Ivoire submitted in March 2008 did not mention any proposed or planned mining concessions within the property.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the opinion that any mining within the part of the property situated in Côte d’Ivoire would lead to an irreversible loss of the outstanding universal value of this property. They recall the position taken by the World Heritage Committee in previous similar cases, that mining is not compatible with the World Heritage status. They note that this principle has been endorsed by major companies in the industry, as outlined in the International Council on Mining and Metals Position Statement on Protected Areas (2003). The State Party is requested to respond to the World Heritage Centre letter concerning the current status of the proposed iron-ore mining in Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve.
At the 31st session, the results of the World Heritage Centre / IUCN mission, which took place from 12 to 22 May 2007, were presented orally. The full mission report can be found on http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2007.
The mission team concluded that the outstanding universal value for which the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List was still present but under increasing pressure. It identified two major threats to the property, namely a significant increase in poaching pressure and a degradation of the vegetation as a result of repeated heavy burning. Other important threats include unsustainable agricultural practices immediately adjacent to the property leading to deforestation and increasing pressures from livestock grazing. The mission noted that these pressures had increased significantely since the 1993 monitoring mission and threaten the integrity of the property. The mission also reported that the management of the property remains weak, with the management authority lacking the necessary resources to implement its mission. A 9 year UNDP/GEF project was expected to contribute to reinforcing the management and addressing the threats but had only just started its activities in the field. To address these issues, the mission proposed a set of corrective measures, which were adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 31 session (Christchurch, 2007).
The mission also noted the importance of clarifying the legal status of the World Heritage property, buffer zone and mining enclave as well as the two other core zones of the biosphere reserve.
The mission team further reviewed the on-going and planned mining activities by the Societé des Mines de Fer de Guinée (SMFG) in the enclave. The mission also reviewed the efforts to clarify the boundaries of the mining enclave as adopted by the World Heritage Committee in 1993 and provided recommendations on the outstanding issues. It further concluded that the impact of the on-going exploration activities on the property was limited but identified major potential impacts of the planned mining in the enclave, namely climatic impacts, impacts on the biodiversity and impacts on the watershed:
· The planned open cast iron mining will create a breach in the mountain ridge, which will facilitate the penetration of dry harmatan winds into the property. This might affect the diversity of microclimates found in the Reserve, which is at the basis of its exceptionnal plant diversity;
· The mining activities in the enclave might impact on some of the key species, which are contributing to the outstanding universal valueof the property. Recent studies revealed that 50% of the population of the endemic viviparous toad is living within the mining concession;
· Mining operations could affect different rivers and streams which originate in the enclave but afterwards enter the property.
The environmental impact assesment (EIA) will have to clarify to which extend these potential threats will affect the values and integrity of the property. Lack of baseline data are making this assesment especially challenging and at the time of the mission, several baseline data on the climate, hydrology and biodiversity were being collected. The mission requested that the mining company and the State Party would consult regularly with all stakeholders, including the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, to discuss the implementation of the EIA and that any intermediary results would be submitted to the World Heritage Committee.
The State Party did not provide the report requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session (Christchurch 2007), and therefore no further information is available on the implementation of the corrective measures, or on progress in the delimitation of the property.
A delegation of SMFG visited the World Heritage Centre on 5 November 2007. During the meeting, the recommendations of the 2007 mission were discussed. Following the request of the World Heritage Committee to keep all stakeholders, including the World Heritage Centre and IUCN informed about progress in the EIA process, SMFG proposed to organise regular information meetings. A first meeting took place at UNESCO on 14 February 2008, with participation of IUCN, the World Heritage Centre and UNESCO MAB programme, UNDP and from Guinea the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry of Mines, the UNESCO National Commission and the national MAB Committee. At the meeting, SMFG presented the different base line assessments currently conducted or planned and confirmed that the EIA is scheduled to start the second half of 2008. To conduct the EIA, SMFG will recruit an international consultant and the study will be conducted in compliance with the Guinean law and international good practice standards. Participants to the meeting proposed that the results of the EIA would be submitted to an international committee of experts to ensure its quality. The meeting also discussed the problem of the unclear legal status highlighted by the 2007 mission, but the representative of the Environment Ministry announced that a law was under development to address this issue. SMFG also explained that the remaining open issues with regard to the clarification of the boundaries of the mining concession will be resolved soon.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN urge the mining company to conduct the EIA and feasibility study for the mining project using the highest international standards to ensure that all potential direct and indirect impacts on the property, in particular those identified by the 2007 mission, are carefully assessed. The EIA should take into account the lifecycle of the mine, its waste storage and infrastructure requirements, and the ecological restoration of the landscape at the end of the lifespan of the mine.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are also concerned that no information was provided by the State Party on the implementation of the corrective measures to address the escalating threats identified during the 2007 mission. If the State Party of Guinea is unable to manage and reduce these threats, the impact of any mining activities could be compounded and lead to the greater loss of values and integrity of the property.