Lakes of Ounianga
The site includes eighteen interconnected lakes in the hyper arid Ennedi region of the Sahara desert covering an area of 62,808 ha. It constitutes an exceptional natural landscape of great beauty with striking colours and shapes. The saline, hyper saline and freshwater lakes are supplied by groundwater and are found in two groups 40 km apart. Ounianga Kebir comprises four lakes, the largest of which, Yoan, covers an area of 358 ha and is 27 m deep. Its highly saline waters only sustain algae and some microorganisms. The second group, Ounianga Serir, comprises fourteen lakes separated by sand dunes. Floating reeds cover almost half the surface of these lakes reducing evaporation. At 436 ha, Lake Teli has the largest surface area but is less than 10 m deep. With their high quality freshwater, some of these lakes are home to aquatic fauna, particularly fish.
Outstanding Universal Value
Located in North-Eastern Chad, in a hot and hyperarid desert setting with less than 2mm rainfall per year, the Lakes of Ounianga comprises a total of 18 lakes, in two groups, displaying a variety of sizes, depths, colorations and chemical compositions. The property covers 62,808 ha and has a 4,869 ha buffer zone. The Lakes of Ounianga property is located in a basin which, less than 10,000 years ago, was occupied by a much larger lake and has a globally unique hydrological system, sustaining the largest permanent freshwater lakes system in the heart of a hyperarid environment.
The property also displays a range of striking aesthetic features, with varied coloration associated with the different lakes and their vegetation, and the presence of dramatic natural desert landforms that all contribute to the exceptional natural beauty of the landscape of the property. The shape and distribution of the lakes, combined with the effect of the wind moving the floating vegetation in the lakes, gives the impression of “waves of water flowing in the desert”.
Criterion (vii): The property represents an exceptional example of permanent lakes in a desert setting, a remarkable natural phenomenon which results from an aquifer and associated complex hydrological system which is still to be fully understood. The aesthetic beauty of the site results from a landscape mosaic which includes the varied coloured lakes with their blue, green and /or reddish waters, in reflection of their chemical composition, surrounded by palms, dunes and spectacular sandstone landforms, all of it in the heart of a desert that stretches over thousands of kilometres. In addition, about one third of the surface of the Ounianga Serir Lakes is covered with floating reed carpets whose intense green colour contrasts with the blue open waters. Rock exposures which dominate the site offer a breathtaking view on all the lakes, of which the colours contrast with the brown sand dunes separated by bare rock structures. The shape and distribution of the lakes, combined with the effect of the wind moving the floating vegetation in the lakes, gives the impression of “waves of water flowing in the desert”.
The boundaries of the 62,808 ha property have been designed to ensure its integrity. The property includes the area situated below the 450m contour line within the immediate lake watershed. The 4,869 ha buffer zone includes the village of Ounianga Kebir beside Lake Yoan. Zoning for management of the site takes into account pressures which are now mainly concentrated on Lake Yoan. Ounianga Serir, the smallest village (population of c. 1,000 in 2012) is next to the lake Teli, inside the property.
The hydrological system of the Lakes of Ounianga is functioning and the water level is stable apart from a slight seasonal variation, thanks to a groundwater supply which compensates evaporation losses.
The beauty and aesthetic values of the property have been well conserved. Although a good number of people live around lakes Yoan and Teli, local initiatives are assuring the compatibility between human activities and conservation of the site’s values. Activities planned in the management plan strengthen and complement these initiatives. In addition the recently adopted Decree No. 095 which aims to maintain traditional agricultural practices in the property instead of intensive agriculture will enhance the conservation of the property.
Protection and management requirements
Decree n° 1077/PR/PM/MCJS/2010 of 15.12.2010 designated the Lakes of Ounianga as a “Natural site”; the protected area system of Chad, as established in Law n°14/PR/2008, focuses on fauna and flora conservation and, alone, is not fully suited to Ounianga; thus, responsibility for the property is vested in the Ministry of Culture. There is high level political support for the protection and management of the property at national and local levels.
Under the decree, all activities that could threaten the integrity of the property, including mining, are forbidden. The national designation is similar to IUCN Category III for protected areas. This decree is complemented by the Decree No. 630 which regulates the need to prepare Environmental Impact Assessments for development projects.
The property has an effective management plan in place for the short and long term, and there are adequate resources and staffing provided its implementation and monitoring.
Wetlands such as the Lakes of Ounianga are also protected by Law 14/PR/98. An action plan is implemented through local associations to avoid negative impacts on the site. Conservation efforts focus on factors that could impact the site’s integrity, which include effective measures to regulate urban development, address litter and waste management, support sustainable agriculture and ensure that traffic, tourism and other uses is maintained at levels that do not impact the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Several local associations created at the initiative of the local governmental authorities and the local communities are also responsible for the conservation of the property. These activities are implemented with the support of a Local Management Committee, which provides input for improving the existing management plan.