1.         Lower Valley of the Omo (Ethiopia) (C 17)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1980

Criteria  (iii)(iv)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/17/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1996-2015)
Total amount approved: USD 17,018
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/17/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

April 2015: joint UNESCO/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/17/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016

A joint UNESCO/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission was carried out from 13-19 April 2015 regarding the concerns expressed by the Committee in 2014 at the potential impacts of the Kuraz Sugar Cane project. The mission report is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/17/documents. On 12 May 2016, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report, which is available at the above-mentioned web address.

The mission reported that the property has no established boundary and has neither a management plan nor an on-site manager. It expressed concern that permission has been granted for agricultural development through the Kuraz project without appropriate consideration to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property. Although no direct impacts have been produced to date, decisions have been made that could potentially be highly detrimental to the property including: permission for the commencement of infrastructure developments such as dam construction, the planning of the spatial extent of the sugar plantation area, the new road link from Omo Rate to Kangaten, and fossil fuel exploration rights over the entire area encompassing the property. These permits have been granted without the prior assessment of potential impacts.

The sum effects of these interventions could seriously adversely affect the OUV of the property and its conditions of integrity, particularly because no precise boundaries or buffer zones have been clearly established. The mission noted that a large focus is made on the known fossil-bearing outcrops but that these do not in themselves define the extent of the property, which includes its physical and biotic setting as well as deposits underlying the surface illuvium. Another issue highlighted is the potential relocation of traditional pastoral communities, as intended by the Kuraz project, which could change the landscape of the property.

The State Party report did not provide clear details on the scope or precise location of the Kuraz project, as had been requested by the Committee to be sent as soon as possible following its session in 2014.

The State Party further reports that:

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The lack of clearly established boundaries for the property and for a buffer zone, which was identified as an issue during the first cycle of periodic reporting in 2001, has proven detrimental to decision making in relation to development projects. The HIA for the Kuraz Sugar project describes three separate sites with three separate buffer zones, which is incorrect in relation to the single inscribed property.

The mission noted that potential impacts of the Kuraz project could bring highly-damaging changes in a landscape area of approximately 100 km², which, depending on the exact location, could cover about two-thirds of the property. These would include irreversible damage to fossil remains from a variety of factors, including excavations, impact of machinery, agriculture and irrigation, looting and trampling associated with the proposed new settlements, increases in soil salinization, changes in river levels resulting from dam construction, etc.  The property is also threatened by already approved, infrastructure and agricultural developments such as dam construction and the new road link from Omo Rate to Kangaten, as well as from permits for fossil fuel exploration rights over the entire area encompassing the property.

The EU-funded geo-mapping project, implemented by UNESCO, will address some of the conservation problems at the property, particularly boundary and management issues. However, it is of considerable concern that the timeframes for the EU-funded project, the finalization of the SEA and the proposed implementation of the Kuraz project are not aligned.

In its letter of 2 June 2016, indications were provided by the State Party to consider accelerating the work on the boundary of the property. The boundary work is expected to be completed during the first quarter of 2017.  The SEA to consider the impact of the Kuraz project on the property and also on the Lake Turkana World Heritage property in Kenya is still being planned and is not due to be submitted until 2018 (as noted in Decision 39 COM 7B.4 for Lake Turkana). Work on sugar plantations, dams, roads and new villages for the Kuraz project is underway, even though no details have been provided on the overall project nor have adequate impact assessments been undertaken.

Although the remoteness of the property has served to conserve its outstanding paleontological record, the Kuraz project could constitute an irreversible threat to the OUV of the property and its landscape setting. The ongoing major work on the Kuraz scheme in the absence of an agreed boundary, management system, the provision of detailed documentation, including adequate impact assessments, means that the property is in severe danger.

It is recommended that the Committee express its serious concern that the continuation of work on the Kuraz project without respecting the request for full details to be provided and in advance of the completion of essential work on boundaries and the development of appropriate HIA, EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) and a wider SEA, has subjected the property to confirmed and potential danger to its OUV, in conformity with Chapter IV.B of the Operational Guidelines. It is therefore also recommended that the Committee inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

It is essential that full details of the Kuraz project be provided immediately and further work halted until full impacts have been considered by the Committee through HIA and EIA based on clarified boundaries of the property and buffer zone, so that the possibility of mitigation measures can be considered. This is crucial before any firm commitments are made on the overall project, but can only be undertaken based on the results from the EU geo-mapping project. The boundary clarification is thus needed to underpin the necessary HIA and should be undertaken as soon as possible.

Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7B.11

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/16/40.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 38 COM 7B.48, adopted at its 38th session (Doha, 2014),
  3. Acknowledges the details provided by the State Party in its report on the recently signed three-year European Union-funded project entitled “Promoting the Contribution of World Heritage for Sustainable Development and Reinforcing Capacities for Protection and Conservation of Paleontological Sites in Ethiopia”, which will consider boundaries, and conservation and management of the property;
  4. Notes that documentation submitted by the State Party did not provide clear and precise information on the exact location of the Ethiopian Sugar Development Corporation Project (Kuraz project), even though this was requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 38th session in 2014;
  5. Appreciates, however, that the State Party recently submitted a document to the World Heritage Centre with an official map showing the exact location of the Ethiopian Sugar Development Corporation Project (Kuraz project) vis-à-vis the Lower Valley of the Omo World Heritage property;
  6. Welcomes the revision of the initial plan of sugarcane area from 175,000 ha to 100,000 by the State Party in order to mitigate possible impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property;
  7. Notes with concern that work on infrastructure and agricultural projects associated with the Kuraz project, including sugar plantations, dams, roads and new villages, have already commenced without submitting adequate impact assessments, and without clarification of the property’s boundaries;
  8. Requests the State Party to ensure the following work has been undertaken and considered by the Committee:
    1. Provision of full details of the Kuraz project by 31 December 2016,
    2. Clarification of the boundaries and submission of proposals for a buffer zone,
    3. Finalization and submission of an improved Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) and a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) based on the clarified boundary and the precise attributes of the OUV,
    4. Provision of the details of the proposed relocation of pastoral communities;
  9. Takes note of the results of the April 2015 Reactive Monitoring mission and urges the State Party to implement its recommendations, particularly the following:
    1. Protect the scientific value and potential of the property, as envisaged at the time of inscription, by clearly defining areas of archaeological potential and defining strategies for its management as a visually coherent landscape with no development between visible outcrops,
    2. Consider adequate visitor and risk management components in the management plan for the intended paleo-tourism activities at the property,
    3. Promote local community involvement in both site management and tourism,
    4. Establish a soil erosion monitoring baseline to define control measures where erosion could pose a threat to fossil-bearing deposits,
    5. Define protocols for back-filling and rehabilitation of open research excavation areas and include an obligation for consolidation of new open areas for all new archaeological research projects,
    6. Establish a soil salinization monitoring baseline in areas of planned irrigation outside the property to monitor and address potential impacts on down gradient fossil-bearing deposits and outcrops;
  10. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2017, a report on the state of conservation of the property, and on the steps taken to implement the above-mentioned recommendations, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in 2017.