UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre vigilant on potential impacts of oil and gas exploration in Namibia and Botswana on the Tsodila and Okavango Delta World Heritage properties.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre has been made aware of petitions by civil society groups received by the UNESCO office in Windhoek, Namibia. The Centre is following with attention and concern the oil and gas exploration projects in north-eastern Namibia and north-western Botswana by the Canadian company Reconnaissance Africa (ReconAfrica), which could potentially impact on the Okavango Delta and Tsodilo World Heritage properties.

Upon receipt of this information, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre has requested more information on the projects and their potential impacts on the World Heritage properties in accordance with the paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. An online meeting was also organized with the two States Parties concerned.  

During this meeting, the Permanent Delegates of the Republic of Botswana and Namibia to UNESCO reiterated their countries’ commitment to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and their guarantee not to undertake any deliberate measures that might directly or indirectly impact negatively the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of any World Heritage properties. The Botswanan Delegation certified its agreement with the company to varying the licensed area in order to exclude the Tsodilo Hills World Heritage site, which was previously erroneously included.

“The World Heritage Committee has always taken a strong position that oil and gas exploration or exploitation activities are incompatible with World Heritage status,”
said Dr Mechtild Rössler, Director of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.

In this regard, the Centre and the representatives of the two States Parties agreed on pursuing this dialogue and closely monitoring the development of the situation.

UNESCO has always recognised that local communities and indigenous peoples are stakeholders and caretakers of World Heritage sites and should be acknowledged as key actors in the effective management and sustainable development of a property. Enhancing their engagement in the governance of World Heritage sites and guaranteeing equitable sharing of the benefits deriving from heritage is one of the World Heritage Convention’s strategic objectives which is Communities. Thus, the Government of Botswana and Namibia pledged to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are be consulted on the results of any Environmental Impact Assessment conducted, and reiterated their aim to advance the region to greater economic gains through the sustainable utilisation of its natural resources, while ensuring the integrity and the Outstanding Universal Value of the Tsodilo Hills and Okavango Delta World Heritage properties.

Finally, it is important to note that the state of conservation of the Okavango Delta will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its next session in 2021.