1.         Socotra Archipelago (Yemen) (N 1263)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2008

Criteria  (x)

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/1263/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2017-2017)
Total amount approved: USD 75,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1263/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

December 2012: IUCN mission; June 2014: IUCN/Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARC-WH) mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1263/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2018

On 16 May 2018, the State Party confirmed to the World Heritage Centre, that an earlier letter from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) of the Ministry of Water and Environment of the Republic of Yemen dated 23 January 2018 and available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1263/documents, should be regarded as a formal report on the state of conservation of the property.  This letter provides the following information:

Despite invitations from the State Party, the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property requested by the Committee (Decisions 40 COM 7B.86 and 41 COM 7B.23) could not be undertaken, as it has not received the necessary security clearance.

On 7 May 2018, the Ambassador of Yemen to UNESCO wrote to the UNESCO Director-General acknowledging the serious threats to the property reported from various sources, reiterating the urgent need for a mission, and stressing that delaying the mission would exacerbate current threats to the property.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The recent media articles and documentaries from diverse channels, as well as other information from multiple reliable sources, confirmed by the letter from the Ambassador of Yemen, indicate clear concern regarding the deterioration of the conservation status of Socotra. Coastal and inland developments are reported to partly take place in violation of the Conservation Zoning Plan of Socotra Islands (CZP), which underpins the protection of the property. Tourism and leisure projects are reported in environmentally sensitive areas, including areas that are legally protected as national parks or nature sanctuaries (e.g. Hawlaf Beach and. Diksam Plateau), without prior assessment of impacts and without informing the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines. The EIA undertaken for Hawlaf Sea Port dates back to its original construction, and cannot be considered to have constituted an adequate assessment of the impacts of the port’s recently completed expansion. The additional studies undertaken by EPA have not been submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN as stipulated in the Operational Guidelines. Other developments, such as the construction of Zayad City and humanitarian aid-related developments have not been subject to EIA, as confirmed by the State Party.

The risk of introduction of invasive alien species (IAS) to the island is exacerbated by the road-side planting of exotic species and the reported lack of inspection of cargo being offloaded at Hawlaf Sea Port. This is of significant concern regarding the potentially devastating impacts of IAS on Socotra’s unique biodiversity.

While the State Party asserts that pressure on marine resources has decreased as a result of the provision of alternative employment, significant changes to the island’s traditionally small-scale fisheries have reportedly occurred for the last two years, with the re-opening of a fish factory and the establishment of an export marketing chain of Socotri fish. This is likely to cause additional and unsustainable pressure on the island’s fisheries through commercial overfishing.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee urge the State Party to halt any activity that has a potential impact on the property’s OUV and to refrain from allowing any further development at the property, until planned activities and projects in the property and its buffer zone have been submitted to the World Heritage Centre, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, for review by IUCN.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the view that, on the basis of the information available at the time of drafting this report, the OUV of Socotra is potentially significantly threatened by uncontrolled developments, unsustainable use of natural resources, and the absence of adequate biosecurity measures to avoid the introduction of IAS.

Two requests by the Committee to investigate these matters through a joint World Heritage Centre/ IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission could not be implemented due to the lack of security clearance for the mission. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that a Reactive Monitoring Mission be undertaken as a matter of urgency to the site.

At the time of preparation of this report, a cyclone in the region caused casualties and flash flooding. Cyclone Mekunu also hit the island at the end of May 2018 and the full impact of this cyclone on the World Heritage property has still to be assessed.

The World Heritage Centre recommends that the Committee reiterate the need for the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring, which is necessary to assess the current state of conservation of the property and the potential danger to its OUV.

It is further recommended that the Committee request the World Heritage Centre to engage in urgent dialogue with the Yemeni authorities to ensure the protection of the property’s OUV while also promoting appropriate sustainable development for the people of Socotra, and to define with the State Party the urgent short term actions that need to be taken to protect it, and establish a structured working mechanism for planning, approving and implementing any activities in the property and its buffer zone.

Despite the reported positive humanitarian developments, IUCN notes it received reports about negative socio-economic and socio-cultural impacts, including the unaffordability of fish for the local population due to the high demand for export; the monopolization of tourism by non-Socotri tour operators; and unethical practices that undermine the notion of sustainable use of natural resources. IUCN also received reports of destruction of corals, causing significant negative impacts on the marine values of the property.

IUCN concludes that available information from diverse sources indicates consistently that many of the threatening developments affecting Socotra during the past two years involve actors reportedly coming from the United Arab Emirates. A report of 11 March 2018 on the Emirati News Agency website confirms that The Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation has inaugurated the Hawlaf Port in the Socotra Governorate, which is a development of concern referred to in previous Committee decisions.

IUCN notes that on 18 April 2018, the Executive Director of UN Environment wrote to the Director General of IUCN citing IUCN’s statutory role in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, and requested that his views be drawn to the attention of the Committee. In view of UN Environment’s on-the-ground knowledge of Socotra, the Executive Director expressed concern about the development pressures and the impacts of these on the World Heritage property. The Executive Director noted with concern that in the absence of action, the unique ecosystem of the island would be further degraded – possibly irreparably. Accordingly, the Executive Director called on the international community to act for the protection of the environment while also fulfilling the development aspirations of the people of Socotra. IUCN notes the significance of the information provided by the Executive Director of UN Environment regarding the growing risk of damage to the property, and the confirmation that UN Environment is “of the view that the Yemeni authorities and the UAE-linked actors on the ground must take urgent action for the protection of this globally recognized unique world [heritage] site”. 

IUCN concludes that the State of Conservation of the property has clearly deteriorated during the time that has elapsed since the previous report to the Committee. In the light of the above, IUCN considers that the serious and fast moving nature of multiple threats to the property clearly meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, in accordance with Paragraph 180 b) of the Operational Guidelines. IUCN therefore recommends that the Committee inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and that it reiterate the need for the invited joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to take place as a matter of urgency, in order to assess the threats on its OUV and to develop, in consultation with the State Party and relevant stakeholders, a proposed set of corrective measures and a Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) and establish a timeframe for their implementation.

IUCN supports the need to engage in urgent dialogue with the Yemeni authorities and recommends that this should include other relevant States Parties, UN Environment, as well as other relevant stakeholders to develop actions on how to ensure the protection of the property’s OUV while also promoting appropriate sustainable development for the people of Socotra.

Decision Adopted: 42 COM 7B.100

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/18/42.COM/7B.Add2,
  2. Recalling Decisions 40 COM 7B.86 and 41 COM 7B.23, adopted at its 40th (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016) and 41st (Krakow, 2017) sessions respectively,
  3. Welcomes the State Party’s repeated invitations for the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property requested at its 40th and 41st sessions, but regrets that the mission could not be undertaken due to the security situation in Yemen;
  4. Expresses concern about the casualties and flash flooding caused by Cyclone Mekunu that hit the property at the end of May 2018 and calls on all UNESCO Member States to support emergency safeguarding measures at the property, including through the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund;
  5. Expresses its utmost concern about the multiple reported threats to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, resulting from uncontrolled developments, unsustainable use of natural resources, and the absence of adequate biosecurity measures to avoid the introduction of invasive alien species (IAS), and considers that all these factors represent a potential danger to the OUV of the property;
  6. Urges the State Party to halt any activity that may have a potential impact on the property’s OUV and to refrain from allowing any further development at the property, until planned activities and projects in the property and its buffer zone have been submitted to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, prior to taking any decisions regarding their implementation that would be difficult to reverse, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines;
  7. Reiterates the need for the invited joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to take place as a matter of urgency, in order to assess its current state of conservation, in particular in relation to the above-mentioned threats, and to review whether the property meets the conditions for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger and requests the State Party to assure satisfactory security measures are in place;
  8. Also requests the World Heritage Centre to urgently facilitate a technical meeting with the Yemeni authorities, IUCN and concerned parties on how to ensure the protection of the property’s OUV while also promoting appropriate sustainable development for the people of Socotra;
  9. Further 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, with a view to considering, in case of the confirmation of potential or ascertained danger to its Outstanding Universal Value, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.