Director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre welcomes Gabonese Government decision to alter highway route near Lopé-Okanda
Altering the route of the Transgabonese highway near the Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda will better protect the World Heritage site.
The Transgabonese highway project, which is to cross five provinces of Gabon to link Libreville (West) and Franceville (East) by expressway, foresees the rehabilitation and upgrading of various roads. The World Heritage Committee had expressed its concern regarding the potential impact of this project on the Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda, a property inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, in its Decisions 41 COM 7B. 37 (Krakow, 2017), 39 COM 7B.32 (Bonn 2015), 38 COM 7B.59 (Doha 2014) and 37 COM 7B.33 (Phnom Penh, 2013).
To avoid any impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, the Gabonese Government has decided to alter the route of the highway to circumvent the Lopé National Park through the localities of Alembé - Lalara - Koumameyong - Booué - Carrefour Leroy. According to the Director of the World Heritage Centre, this decision is "an important step in the efforts to protect the natural and cultural values of this property, and in particular the historic areas of the property which would have been directly affected by this project".
The Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda is a mixed (natural/cultural) property due to its remarkable forest-savanna landscapes as well as its many vestiges of past cultures. In the framework of the Central Africa World Heritage Forest Initiative (CAWHFI), the UNESCO World Heritage Centre has supported various awareness-raising activities with local communities, work for the enhancement of the rock engravings of the historic areas of the property, the rehabilitation of the eco-museum of the Lopé National Park and scientific studies that have made it possible to date carved stone tools. Preliminary results show that these tools are at least 620,000 years old and at most 850,000 years old, thus representing the oldest evidence of human presence in the Congo Basin in Central Atlantic Africa.