UNESCO reiterates its grave concern over planned dam construction within Selous Game Reserve World Heritage property (United Republic of Tanzania)
In response to recent reports that Tanzania granted a contract for the construction of a dam within the Selous Game Reserve World Heritage property to two Egyptian companies, the Director of the World Heritage Centre reminded the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania of its obligations as signatory to the 1972 World Heritage Convention.
Upon the inscription of Selous Game Reserve on the World Heritage List in 1982, the international community recognized the Outstanding Universal Value of this property as one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Africa, with relatively undisturbed ecological and biological processes and exceptional biodiversity. In a series of decisions adopted over the last decade, the Committee expressed its concern about the potential damage to the site’s values resulting from the hydropower dam at Stiegler's Gorge, located on the Rufiji River within the Selous Game Reserve World Heritage property.
Following media reports regarding the new developments of the project, UNESCO’s Director-General, Ms Audrey Azoulay wrote to H.E. Mr John Magufuli, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, to pursue fruitful dialogue on this matter. On 22 February 2018, UNESCO issued an official statement outlining UNESCO’s position (available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1785).
During its last session in July 2018, the World Heritage Committee expressed its ‘grave concern’ about Tanzania’s decision to move forward on the project, and decided to add this issue to the justification for the continued inclusion of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger (Decision 42 COM 7A.56). The property was initially inscribed on the Danger List in 2014 owing to the poaching crisis that led to dramatic declines in the elephant population of the Selous ecosystem.
The Committee also recalled its position that the construction of dams with large reservoirs within the boundaries of World Heritage properties is incompatible with their World Heritage status, and reiterated its requests to the State Party of Tanzania to “fully assess the cumulative impacts of the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project on the property and its wider landscape through a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), undertaken to the highest international standards, and to consider alternative options to meet its power generation needs”. In its letter dated 27 November 2018, the UNESCO National Commission of the United Republic of Tanzania informed the World Heritage Centre that a consultant has been selected to undertake the SEA for the Selous Game Reserve.
Amidst media articles reporting that the hydropower project will be constructed in cooperation with two Egyptian construction companies and that the President of Egypt had been invited to lay the cornerstone of the future dam, the Director of the World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the Permanent Delegation of Egypt on 31 October 2018 on this matter. According to Article 6.3 of the Convention, States Parties shall not "take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage…situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention".
In Decision 42 COM 7A.56 adopted in July 2018, the World Heritage Committee requested Tanzania to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to review the status of the dam project and the overall state of conservation of the property. The recommendations of the mission will be examined by the Committee at its 43rd session in Baku, Azerbaijan from 30 June to 10 July 2019.
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/18/42.COM/7A,
- Recalling Decisions 36 COM 7B.5, 36 COM 8B.43, 40 COM 7, 40 COM 7A.47 and 41 COM 7A.17, adopted at its 36th (Saint-Petersburg, 2012), 40th (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016) and 41st (Krakow, 2017) sessions respectively,
- Expresses its grave concern about the State Party’s decision to develop the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project, and in particular the tendering of logging rights for 143,638 ha within the property, considers that the resulting large-scale deforestation represents a clear potential danger to the property in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines, and decides to add this issue to the justification for the continued inclusion of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
- Also recalling the Committee’s position that the construction of dams with large reservoirs within the boundaries of World Heritage properties is incompatible with their World Heritage status, as well as the commitment made by the State Party when the boundary modification was approved in 2012 not to undertake any development activities within Selous Game Reserve and its buffer zone without prior approval of the World Heritage Committee, reiterates its requests to the State Party to fully assess the cumulative impacts of the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project on the property and its wider landscape through a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), undertaken to the highest international standards, and to consider alternative options to meet its power generation needs;
- Urges the State Party to ensure that the planned logging and all other activities related to the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project, which will affect the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and will be difficult to reverse, do not proceed prior to the completion of the SEA and its review by IUCN, and requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to review the status of the project, assess the state of conservation of the property and to assist the State Party in finalizing the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR);
- Welcomes the launch of the Selous Ecosystem Conservation and Development (SECAD) project, funded by the German Development Bank, and its contribution to the implementation of the Emergency Action Plan (EAP), and also urges the State Party to ensure that the EAP is fully carried out and to report on progress made;
- Noting that the efforts to improve law enforcement in the property appear to have reduced poaching, also requests the State Party to provide details on the data collection and to confirm these positive trends through an aerial census of the elephant population;
- Also noting the indications that black rhinos are still present in the property, further requests the State Party to collect more data to evaluate the size and viability of the population, and to develop a strategy to ensure the long-term survival of the species;
- Requests furthermore the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN, details of the elephant demographic survey and its methodology, including information on the selection of the surveyed elephant groups, comparisons with other demographic studies and classification of males and females;
- Requests moreover the State Party to finalize the Desired state of conservation for removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) based on currently available data on elephants and the advice provided by the 2017 mission, and to submit it the World Heritage Centre for the Committee’s adoption;
- Notes with concern that the five-year Action Plan to protect the Selous-Niassa corridor is still not approved, lacks funding and has not been submitted to the World Heritage Centre, and further urges the State Party to take action to secure this important ecological corridor, and continue to report on progress made;
- Urges furthermore the State Party to submit as soon as possible to the World Heritage Centre the revised Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Kidunda dam, including a model for the flooding regime, as well the ESIA for the Kito-1 oil and gas prospection project, including a study on the hydrological regime of the Kilombero floodplain and a specific assessment of potential downstream impacts on the OUV of the property;
- Whilst noting the suspension of the Mkuju River Uranium Mining project, also reiterates its request to the State Party to conduct a full new ESIA and submit it to the World Heritage Centre if the design of the project is altered and In Situ Leaching technology (ISL) is applied;
- Requests moreover the State Party to submit the new General Management Plan of the property as soon as it is available, as well as detailed information on the ecological importance of the area in the Mbarika mountains, which is proposed to be included within the property, in accordance with Decision 36 COM 8B.43;
- Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2019, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd session in 2019;
- Also decides to retain Selous Game Reserve (United Republic of Tanzania) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.