1.         The Sundarbans (Bangladesh) (N 798)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1997

Criteria  (ix)(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/798/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2008-2008)
Total amount approved: USD 75,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions

2007: World Heritage Centre mission 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2008

The property is comprised of three distinct components of roughly the same size, all part of, and located within, the larger Sundarbans Forest Reserve. The East Sundarbans component was subjected to the full force of the powerful cyclone Sidr on 5 November 2007. In response to the reported widespread damage to the property caused by the cyclone, UNESCO dispatched a mission in December 2007. The UNESCO mission consulted the IUCN Bangladesh office and had the following objectives:

a) Assess the impact of cyclone Sidr on the Sundarbans ecosystem, and on the Forest Department’s ability to fulfil its management mandate;

b) Develop, in consultation with local and national authorities, a response strategy focusing on ensuring that the Forest Department maintains its capacity to effectively protect the ecosystem and manage resource use activities in the site;

c) Assist the Forest Department authorities to prepare an emergency assistance proposal to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre;

d) Ensure that the UN response effort is fully appraised of the situation, particularly with the link between an effectively managed ecosystem and the sustainable livelihoods of surrounding communities, so that consideration is given to allocating available support to ensuring the long term productivity of the site.

The observations of the mission fall into two categories: impacts on ecosystems and impacts on management capacity. The ecosystem impact included very extensive damage to the mangrove forests in over 30% of the property (e.g. the near totality of the East Sundarbans component and a small portion of the South Sundarbans component). In this zone, trees and shrubs lost 75%-100% of their foliage while larger trees were blown down or suffered major crown damage. A clear measure of impacts on animal wildlife was impossible to obtain, though there is a strong likelihood, given the powerful winds and a flooding 3-4 metre storm surge, that significant mortality would have occurred (birdlife, other vertebrates including tigers). Fishermen reported reduced catches immediately following the cyclone but it is unclear if this was a temporary or more long-term impact on the aquatic species and habitat. The mission concluded that ecosystem recovery over the next several years was likely as long as no additional threats develop and if an appropriate management strategy designed to reduce ecosystem stress is adopted (e.g. such as temporary reductions in allowed human activities in certain areas).

Many fishermen and one forest guard perished in the cyclone. The impact on management capacity included severe damage to infrastructure such as water collection facilities for park staff, patrol posts and buildings which were rendered uninhabitable, having lost their roofing, windows, doors and furnishings. Jetties, critical for safe boat embarkation and disembarkation, and for mooring in tidal conditions, were also destroyed. According to Forest Department staff, all smaller motorized vessels have been lost, along with all communications and other office equipment.

The recommendations of the mission are to ensure that that no additional stresses be permitted to slow or prevent the recovery of the habitat and normal functioning of the ecosystem, and to monitoring the recovery. In particular, in response to the ecosystem impact: (1) avoid additional stressors: prevent fires and removal of deadwood; (2) monitor the ecosystem response to the cyclone and use this to help assess the post cyclone management actions and improve risk reduction planning for the future, and (3) clear the areas surrounding field stations to facilitate their operation. To aid the recovery of full management capacity the mission suggested short, medium and longer term strategies. The short term strategy focuses on restoring management capacity within the strict boundaries of the property, whereas the medium term strategy focuses on doing the same throughout the remaining areas of the Sundarbans Forest Reserve.

1. Short Term (3-6 months)

• Survey all field stations within the property and the surrounding Forest Reserve in an effort to identify which can be fully restored, and which need to be replaced.

• Develop a complete and detailed restoration plan, including budget. Begin to seek financing to implement it.

• Restore the most strategic field stations with those located within the property as priority, to provide adequate housing facilities for Forest Department staff (e.g. clean up and remove debris, restore structures, and equip with necessary furnishings, rebuild mooring jetties, consideration should be given to the feasibility of acquiring solar powered reverse osmosis machines for drinking and cooking water).

• Acquire a minimum number of suitable motorized boats to ensure basic monitoring role of Forest Department staff.

• Acquire necessary communications equipment to allow for optimal coordination of Forest Department activities in the field.

• Remove debris from smaller water channels to ensure adequate water flow.

2. Medium Term (6-18 months)

• Complete the restoration of field stations (as per short term strategy) and replace remaining lost motorized boats and communications equipment.

• Carry out an assessment of cyclone refuge needs (in terms of design, capacity, versatility, location, cost-benefit assessment and management requirements) to ensure that these serve effectively as occasional refuges of last resort (e.g. evacuation of personnel and fishermen prior to cyclone landfall being the preferred response).

• Construct strategically located cyclone refuge complexes.

• Support the restoration of eco-tourism facilities.

• Develop a sustainable financing plan for the property to ensure continuous optimal management capacity.

3. Long Term (18 months – 4 years)

• Implement the sustainable financing plan for the property, including support for a permanent ecosystem monitoring programme.

The mission also acknowledged the risk of encroachment by local populations into the property. The managers of the property, while trying to recover their own capacity, will need to engage actively with the local communities to ensure strong and transparent communication on the importance of protecting the property while working together to help rebuild livelihoods.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN acknowledge the efforts of the State Party which has submitted a request for International Assistance for "Re-establishing essential management capacity in the Sundarbans World Heritage property following the passage of cyclone Sidr” and would encourage the State Party to report on its own activities to complement international assistance it is seeking. IUCN would encourage the State Party to carry out detailed ecological studies on wildlife and vegetation to determine the current populations of key and endangered species such as tiger, python, estuarine crocodile and marine turtles. The distribution and health of forest, mangrove and other habitat along with changes in the hydrology of the property, which affect salinity gradients, sediment load/ deposition and other factors affecting the distribution of flora and fauna should be monitored. Information so gathered will support risk assessment and cyclone recovery work.

The involvement of the international community is essential to ensure that the Forest Department quickly regains its capacity to manage the Sundarbans and avoid increasing impacts from uncontrolled exploitation – a risk which grows with the duration of the post-cyclone reduction in management capacity.  

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN


Decision Adopted: 32 COM 7B.10

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-08/32.COM/7B,

2. Offers its sympathy for the tragic loss of life as a result of cyclone Sidr;

3. Calls upon the international community to support the State Party in its efforts to re-establish full management capacity at the property as soon as possible:

4. Requests the State Party to implement the recommendations of the Reactive Monitoring mission, and place particular emphasis on the following:

a) produce a detailed restoration and recovery plan;

b) restore management capacity to:

i) restore field stations and forest patrols;

ii) communication and transport equipment;

iii) implement ecological monitoring;

c) support the revival of livelihood activities, including ecotourism;

d) engage with local communities to communicate the importance of the property to sustainable livelihoods and to determine alternatives to encroachment into the property;

5. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2009, a detailed report on progress in implementing the recommendations of the mission and on the state of conservation of the property for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in 2009;