Sites in Danger
WORLD HERITAGE SITES ON THE OFFICIAL DANGER LIST
Sadly, Africa has more than its fair share of world heritage sites that are officially designated as being In Danger. Of the 19 natural sites on the global Danger list at the end of 2016, more than two thirds (13 sites or 68% of the global total) are in Africa. This reflects the particular challenges of this continent, especially the widespread occurrence of periodic insurgency, civil unrest and war. Danger listing should serve as a ‘wake-up’ call to the international community to mobilise all necessary diplomatic, financial and technical resources to ameliorate – wherever possible - the threats to this irreplaceable heritage, and accelerate the pace of repairing the damage inflicted as a result of civil unrest.
MAIN THREATS TO AFRICA'S WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Some of the threats to specific places are highlighted in the corresponding page of the website, while an overview of the ‘Top 10’ key threats affecting Africa’s world heritage sites is provided here. In some cases, the degree of threat associated with a particular place has not yet reached levels that warrant a site’s Danger listing, but early recognition of emerging issues should help keep sites off the list.
Civil unrest, insurgency and war. The problems for world heritage sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Niger and Madagascar all began during periods of civil unrest, and are likely to continue long after the cessation of conflict. Despite the heroic efforts of many dedicated rangers in war zones, the presence of military personnel (or armed ‘rebels’) in a conservation area often presents insurmountable challenges. Military personnel may deliberately destroy park infrastructure, drive away staff and kill animals (for food, valuable trophies or just for the sake of it), often leaving total devastation in their wake. Park resources may also come under pressure (e.g. for firewood or charcoal) from people displaced by war. Re-building infrastructure and restoring animal populations or natural vegetation cover can take a very long time, even if security can be rapidly restored in the aftermath of conflict.
Mining and mineral exploitation. The present boom in commodity prices has resulted in a huge surge in mineral exploration activity across Africa and, despite the provisions of the Convention, many governments regard world heritage sites as legitimate places for exploration. Sites that are currently threatened by mining or mineral exploration (inside their boundaries or close-by) include Mount Nimba, the Rwenzori Mountains, Virunga, Lake Turkana, Banc D’Arguin, iSimangaliso, Mana Pools and Selous.
Dam-building, water diversion and abstraction. Water is needed everywhere – for power generation, agricultural irrigation and industrial development. As development in Africa gathers momentum and investment in the continent increases, the rivers and wetlands that sustain some of the continent’s most important world heritage sites are being dammed and their life-sustaining water diverted to giant irrigation schemes. The vast cost of these schemes may have slowed the pace of such developments in the past, but many are now attracting renewed attention. Sites that are threatened by dam-building, water diversion and abstraction include Victoria Falls, Lake Ichkeul, Lake Turkana, Djoudj, iSimangaliso, Mana Pools, the Kenya Lake System, Niokolo-Koba and Selous.
Roads and infrastructure development. Plans for major new roads through world heritage sites – such the new Serengeti highway – tend to attract strong opposition and the threat they pose can often be averted through a combination of approaches involving the international media, public protest, diplomatic and political channels. There are many smaller infrastructure development projects that are progressively eroding the wilderness values of natural heritage sites across the continent. Sites that are currently threatened by road-building and other infrastructure developments include the Simien Mountains, Selous, and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
Poaching, logging and resource exploitation. Most natural sites are affected to some extent by illegal hunting and other forms of resource use, but this only becomes a serious problem when the level of off-take exceeds the natural replenishment rate. Large mammals that are targeted for their valuable trophies, such as rhino and elephant are particularly vulnerable, and have been seriously affected by poaching (or eliminated altogether) in world heritage sites across the continent – from Mana Pools to Selous and Serengeti; and from Garamba and the other Congolese sites to Manovo-Gounda and Niokolo-Koba. Commercial exploitation of wildlife for meat is common in the Congo Basin and across the whole of West Africa, and there is probably not a single world heritage site in this part of the continent that has more than a fraction of its ‘natural’ populations of target species – including monkeys, antelope and larger rodents.
Human settlement, livestock and cultivation. It is a requirement for natural sites to satisfy rigorous ‘conditions of integrity’ before they can be inscribed on the world heritage list. In a few cases, where people were living at a site before it was inscribed, there is ongoing tension between the living requirements of these people and the desire to protect heritage values. This applies particularly to the Simien Mountains, Ngorongoro Crater, Okapi Wildlife Reserve and Dja. In other cases livestock may be brought into conservation areas illegally, and/or neighbouring communities may use areas within a park for crop cultivation.
Climate change. The long-term impact of climate change is difficult to assess but natural sites are likely to be significantly altered as global temperatures warm. The glaciers on East Africa’s high mountains (Kilimanjaro, the Rwenzoris and Mount Kenya) are melting fast and are likely to disappear altogether within two or three decades. Ecological communities will ‘migrate’ to higher elevations, pushing out the rare plants and animals that presently occur near mountain summits. Meanwhile, rising sea-levels may submerge coastal wetlands and mudflats such as those at Banc D’Arguin affecting the congregations of migrant waders.
Poorly regulated tourism development. Tourism brings enormous economic benefits and most African sites are not yet over-burdened by excessive numbers of visitors. There is still an opportunity to ‘do things right’ as far as tourism development is concerned, providing an effective regulatory framework to ensure that heritage values are protected while maximising visitor satisfaction. There are a few sites where tourism-related pressures already present a real threat, including the loss of wilderness values associated with lodge developments, camps, off-road driving and other infrastructure in some of the more popular national parks such as Victoria Falls, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Selous, and Mana Pools.
Lack of political will and leadership. The job of politicians is to balance the (often conflicting) demands of various stakeholders in making development decisions. From a heritage perspective, short-term economic gains are too often favoured over longer-term goals that protect heritage values. Ever since the decision to build the Aswan High Dam in Egypt (1960-71), politicians have embraced grand schemes that come at a heavy cost to heritage. The Serengeti highway may have been averted for now, but strong political leadership is required to prevent other potentially damaging developments such as the irrigation schemes that could accompany the series of dams on Lake Turkana’s main inflowing rivers, the flooding of the Zambezi Valley at Mana Pools or the expansion of mining on Mount Nimba.
Ineffective, under-funded management and institutional weaknesses. The agencies responsible for managing world heritage sites in Africa are often severely under-funded and ineffective. All too often they rely on short-term aid projects to sustain management interventions and develop park infrastructure. When these projects finish, national budgets are insufficient to provide adequate protection, allowing the resumption of illegal activities. In some cases poorly supervised, underpaid staff have been implicated in exploitation of the very resources they are charged to protect.
THE LIST OF WORLD HERITAGE IN DANGER includes the following African sites:
Central African Republic
Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park was added to the Danger list in 1997 on account of the worsening security situation in the north of the country and the inability of park authorities to operate effectively in combating threats to the property. Poaching escalated and most of the larger mammals have been killed in subsequent years. There is still no immediate prospect of improvement as the area remains insecure and most of the park infrastructure has been destroyed
Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve was added to the Danger list in 1992 on account of the threat from mining. A large part of the original trans-boundary reserve, on the Guinean side of the border, was de-gazetted to allow for a major open cast iron-ore mining operation to be undertaken in the higher reaches of the mountain. As much of the mountain consists of high-grade iron ore, there remains a very real risk of further excisions and total destruction of much of the higher-elevation forest, grasslands and unique biodiversity. The Liberian ‘end’ of the range has already been extensively damaged by similar mining operations in the past.
Comoe National Park was added to the Danger list in 2003 as Cote D’Ivoire broke down into civil war and the park and surrounding areas fell into the hands of ‘rebel’ forces. Most park staff were withdrawn and poaching escalated. Although the war is now over, much of the park infrastructure has been destroyed, park access roads are no longer accessible and park staff are only slowly returning to their posts. It will take many years – even under the best of circumstances – for wildlife populations to recover.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
All of Congo’s world heritage sites have suffered as an indirect result of the rebellion which led to the overthrow of President Mobutu in the mid-90s; turmoil surrounding the Rwandan genocide and associated influx of refugees; followed by subsequent periods of civil unrest. Parks in the east of the country have been worst affected, but even Salonga National Park was added to the danger List in 1999. Earlier, Virunga National Park was In Danger by 1994, quickly followed by Garamba National Park in 1996, and both Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Okapi Wildlife Reserve in 1997
Simien National Park was added to the Danger list in 1996 as rebel armies took control of this region of northern Ethiopia and the park suffered a further influx of people, threatening the habitat of the Simien fox, Walia ibex and other critically endangered endemic wildlife. Although wildlife populations are now recovering well, there is still some way to go in achieving long-term sustainable management for the park and re-establishing viable populations of key species.
Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve was added to the Danger list in 1992 as a result of the mining threat, as detailed under the entry for this site under Cote D’Ivoire (above)
Lake Turkana has not yet been added to the official danger list but is included here because the development threats it faces clearly warrant it (IUCN, the technical advisory body responsible for natural sites had recommended danger listing in 2013). The principle inflow to the lake (Ethiopia’s Omo River) is being developed for hydro-electric power generation and its waters used for irrigated agriculture. The third of a series of five dams is now nearing completion and massive irrigated sugar plantations are expected to draw enough water from the river as to significantly lower lake levels, increase salinity and affect its ecological character in a major way.
Rainforests of the Atsinanana were added to the Danger list in 2010 on account of political and civil unrest throughout the country, the withdrawal of much international aid (including funds that were critical to the management of the various separate forests that make up the property), and an escalating problem of illegal timber cutting.
Air and Tenere Natural Reserves was added to the Danger list in 1992 as the area fell under the control of rebel Tuareg groups and government lost control. Most of the large mammals and other endangered wildlife has subsequently been destroyed.
Niokolo-Koba National Park was added to the Danger list in 2007 in response to a pervasive deterioration in management capacity and the decline of large mammal populations as a result of poaching.
Selous Game Reserve was added to the Danger list in 2014 following a massive surge in poaching of elephants for their ivory.