The State Party submitted a state of conservation report on 24 January 2008, which notes that the European Commission funded project “Protection and Promotion of Cultural Heritage in Jordan” will be complete by April 2008 and includes a visitors’ centre, visitors’ pathways, a new shelter for the St. Stephen’s complex and protective fencing. The report notes that the original shelter provided under this project, to which the World Heritage Committee had objected, was replaced by a protective roof in a simple design and compatible colour and will not include any curtain wall or glass wall which could cause adverse environmental effects. The report also notes that an NGO to promote awareness in the community for the importance of the heritage of Um er-Rasas has been established in partnership between the local community and the Department of Antiquities.
The State Party’s report also responds in more detail to the priority issues identified by the joint World Heritage Centre/ ICOMOS mission of November 2006, including its efforts to:
a) Define site boundaries and provide perimeter fencing;
b) Acquire adjacent lands to provide a buffer zone;
c) Set up a team to carry out site maintenance, including consolidation of fragile walls and backfilling trenches dangerous for visitors;
d) Provide pathways for visitors;
e) Establish procedures for protecting mosaics;
f) Consolidate fragile architectural elements;
g) Stop restoration and reconstruction work on collapsed fragments;
h) Stop all archaeological excavation until a comprehensive management plan is established and agreed;
i) Discuss a future management structure and financial support system with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities;
j) Review the Management and Conservation plans initiated since 2005.
The joint UNESCO World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission carried out from 24-27 March 2008 has also provided a positive view of the State Party’s efforts to strengthen conservation of the property. The report notes that the “mission members agreed that the situation at the site has been substantially improved following the measures undertaken by the responsible authorities in order to address the main issues raised by the World Heritage Committee” and that consideration of possible inscription on the World Heritage List in Danger “seems not to be necessary anymore.”
The mission report addressed the same issues mentioned by the State Party in its report:
a) The European Commission funded project, conceived to promote tourism, has been substantially modified to give weight to conservation concerns including the elimination of the road initially planned between two archaeological areas and the replacement of the former St. Stephens shelter with a new shelter appropriately designed to cover the whole complex, to eliminate biological deterioration problems and to be supported by foundations outside the perimeter of the churches.
b) The State Party has acquired lands around and between the two main archaeological areas of the property thus defining a homogeneous core area now fenced in for full site protection. The State party has also sought application of new control regulations to adjacent lands within what could belong to a future redefined buffer zone. In due course, proposed boundary modifications to both core and buffer zones designed to facilitate the implementation of a Management plan and Conservation plan for the site, could be submitted to the World Heritage Committee.
c) Dangerous trenches have been marked, covered and/or refilled to prevent harm to visitors. While constituting a substantial improvement since the mission of November 2006, this work of signage can be continued and improved.
d) The installation of clearly delineated and visually integrated pathways improves preservation of the most fragile areas of the property by allowing visitors to understand where access is permitted and not. Here again, signage system improvements could be achieved.
e) Most of the mosaic floors on the site have been preserved under thin earth or sand layers, and plastic sheets replaced with more suitable permeable membranes. The use of geo-textile membranes has not been possible at this stage given their high cost, but this could be addressed in the future.
f) The State Party has constituted a team to consolidate the endangered architectural elements, and applied best practice techniques to the consolidation of the plaster surfaces of the walls of the “villa” and its fragile supporting structures.
g) The restoration and reconstruction of collapsed elements has been halted pending the completion of a future plan for treating such elements.
h) Efforts to cover St. Stephen’s mosaics to accompany the removal of the old shelter involving a saw dust layer beneath impermeable plastic sheeting without biocide treatment could increase biological damage. It was noted however that the new open shelter, and an improved rainwater drainage system will reduce humidity problems. The mission report also recommended further documentation on the mosaics.
i) The State Party has put in place a new management structure which seems quite effective from a functional point of view. The mission report notes the importance of an annual operations budget to complement the State budget for site management.
j) The report notes substantial progress in re-orienting the site’s management plan from tourism to conservation aided by policy shifts which have given the Department of Antiquities full responsibility for developing management plans. The report also noted the utility of building on the Conservation Plan (concerning best practice guidance) recently prepared by the Department of Antiquities, and suggested linking this to an intervention schedule and funding needs.
The mission report also recommends that the State Party submit a “technical document” to the World Heritage Centre which would include detailed documentation on many of these recent initiatives including site boundaries after acquisition of new lands, a technical description of the new shelter and its perceived advantages, a technical description of the mosaic covering installed during the erection of the new shelter, technical descriptions of all site conservation and consolidation measures implemented, and a technical description of all security measures undertaken, including new visitor pathways and the cancellation of the road linking the two archaeological areas. The report also recommends that this technical document should address overarching management issues such as details of the new management structure, of progress on the development of a conservation plan (including benchmarks for short and long term corrective measures already identified), and of ongoing discussions with the municipality of Um er-Rasas regarding the regulations to be applied to adjacent lands. As well, the mission report recommends that the State Party be encouraged to develop a financial system with a minimum annual operations budget, a possible revision of the boundaries of inscribed and buffer zone, as well as a needed archaeological research policy, all linked to a timeframe for expected implementation.