The State Party submitted its report on the state of conservation of the World Heritage property on 27 February 2008. This report provided information on the alterations observed to the built and non-built components, drainage problems, the state of the archaeological sites and progress in the preparation of the management plan.
a) Alterations to buildings
Important alterations continue with regard to the buildings in the Town of Djenné. Several houses are no longer maintained and become dilapidated, creating abandoned plots that become rubbish tips. In the long term, these ruins could cause structural problems to the neighboring houses because of the effects of water stagnation, often causing deterioration of the dividing walls. The abandonment of these houses is due to the impoverishment of the local population, lack of income-generating activities – which in turn causes an exodus – problems of joint possession provoking tension ad regular conflict. Acceleration in new constructions along the river banks may be noted, as well as the construction of public buildings in the town centre. Regulatory tools for the allocation of building permits are not yet in place, and the Djenné Cultural Mission does not have the means to exercise alternative controls to limit the current densification observed. The Town is also subject to bad rehabilitation practices. Indeed, the owners, in order to adapt their houses to new requirements, modify the original plan to the extent that the street alignment no longer exists; the façades are simplified and lose their architectural characteristics. According to a census carried out by the Djenné Heritage Association in February 2008, 154 façades are today covered in part or completely, with cement or baked bricks, and this phenomenon could intensify if no action is undertaken. The State Party is aware that all these uncontrolled modifications could compromise the coherence of the earthen built town. It envisages reviewing the legislation in force and to define a framework for close cooperation between the Cultural Mission and the Town Hall authorities, for the issuance of building permits and inspection of work. It also envisages continuing awareness raising activities for the populations concerning the World Heritage status of the Town.
The report furthermore indicates that an Urban Master Plan (UMP) for the period 2006-2025, proposing a response to urban development, is being prepared. But a certain number of orientations have already been identified in the present version of the UMP that, if applied, could be prejudicial to the property. Among others, these are :
- intensive densification of the Old Town, that could accelerate the morphological transformation of the houses and complicate drainage issues, contravening regulations in force ;
- construction of administrative buildings on the archaeological site of Tonomba, that could affect its outstanding universal value ;
- construction of a ring road that would cross the archaeological site of Hambarketelo, and modify the present morphology of the flood areas and cause heavy use of the river banks.
b) Sanitation problems
The 750 water fountains that have been established in the Old Town have led to the stagnation of water around them. This accumulation of water, aggravated by the poor management of refuse, has provoked an insalubrious situation, detrimental to the health of the population, the earthen architecture and cultural tourism. So far, no satisfactory solution has been found to alleviate this problem. The report also recognizes that the multiplicity of the different methods for the evacuation of water greatly complicates the management of the Town’s drainage system. Nevertheless, of all the evacuation systems, the one that to date appears to be the most suited and best accepted by the population is the one tested in 2000, with support from The Netherlands Government. With regard to waste water, the open air sewage system proposed by the World Bank in 2005 was not retained because of the narrowness and irregularity of the streets. Finally, the report notes that considerable efforts have been made by the Municipal authorities. Even though no public dustbins exist and the open areas caused by collapsing houses are used as rubbish tips, the establishment of associative structures responsible for the collection of refuse gives hope for an improvement in the state of salubriousness of the Town. With regard to the excreta, an economic interest group has been made responsible by the Town Hall authorities for weekly collection from all the houses; it is then either buried in trenches alongside the houses, or disposed of by the river banks. The State Party acknowledges that this traditional practice must be reconsidered, as it affects the health of the population, the crops and fisheries. However, the report indicates that the solutions proposed in the strategic drainage plan for Djenné in 2003, could be the key to the problem. This plan proposes :
- networks of open air masonry rainwater collectors for the wider streets and others adapted to the narrower streets ;
- the creation of latrines for the houses and purification basins for waste water alongside the banks of the River Bani ;
- the collection of domestic solid waste and its evacuation to temporary sites on the outskirts of the town, then to a permanent dump.
c) State of conservation of the archaeological sites
The report indicates the construction of a public building in the Tonomba archaeological site. Mention is also made of natural erosion problems that create deep ravines in the rainy season and consequently threaten the integrity of the archaeological sites, in particular the site of Djene-Djéno. To limit the adverse effects observed by the 2006 World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS joint mission, stone cordons and a green belt began to be built in Djene-Djéno.The Cultural Mission is also attempting to halt the use of the archaeological site of Kaniana as a dump by the populations, and to prevent acts of looting that have also been observed by the joint mission, by means of awareness raising radio programmes.
d) Preparation of a management and conservation plan
With financial support from the World Heritage Fund, the preparation of a management and conservation plan is underway. Several sectoral meetings have been organized by the World Heritage Centre. A public meeting with the entire population was organized on 29 November 2007. These meetings have led to the identification of priority areas of stakeholders and to the outline of initial activities for an action plan. Among the problems raised were drainage questions, the scarcity of wood and rice peelings, the deterioration of houses, the lack of technical knowledge for the installation of sanitary equipment in the houses, the absence of economic and tourist activities. In this framework, a cartographical geo-referenced work of the property is being prepared. This cartography will define the exact boundaries of the property, determine the buffer zone and propose an urban and construction regulation to the Town Hall authorities.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the detailed report provided by the State Party gives a fair picture of the socio-economic difficulties facing the property and the lack of real progress in addressing the severe problems of waste disposal, lack of repair for houses and new building over archaeologically sensitive areas.
The elaboration of the management and conservation plan and in particular the preparation of a concise cartography, in view of an urban and construction regulation applicable to the property, would pave the way for significant progress with regard to reducing the present difficulties.
Nevertheless, it is also urgent to modify the orientations of the UMP that have an impact on the outstanding universal value of the property. In its Decision 30 COM 7B.38, the World Heritage Committee encouraged the State Party to define a project aimed at identifying and promoting best practice for the rehabilitation of houses so as to adapt the local earthen architecture to the new use of living space. This pilot project should be carried out in the framework of activities for Phase II of the World Heritage Earthen Architecture Programme foreseen in Africa, in order to encourage the sustainable use of traditional buildings. Such a programme could also help focus on ways of using traditional buildings as accommodation for the increasing numbers of tourists.