KEEP VICTORIA FALLS WILD

KEEP VICTORIA FALLS WILD
Save Victoria Falls from over-development - click to visit site - www.keepvictoriafallswild.com

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Controversial Project Proposed for Victoria Falls (Zambia)

'Victoria Falls Live Project' proposes 'Charity Concert' from Livingstone Island on edge of the World Heritage Wonder - Concerns over Impacts - Sacred Site

19th December 2023

The Zambian government has announced its support for an event promoted as a 'ground-breaking charity concert for nature' to be staged at the Victoria Falls in 2024.

Concerns have been expressed, however, over the impact of the proposed event on the fragile environment of the Falls, which is also a sacred cultural site and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Victoria Falls Live Project Visualisation

Digital visualisation of the Victoria Falls Live Project 

Details of the Victoria Falls Live Project were released in media statement from Diamond TV Zambia on social media on Friday 15th December.

"The Victoria Falls, is set to be the stage for a new charity concert. The Victoria Falls Live Project, a collaboration between Global Creative Studio Immersive Intl and Agusta Prod. in partnership with WWF, will unite music, nature & innovation in support of saving our planet. 

"The concert will feature renowned Zambian, African, and international artists, all coming together to perform and celebrate the beauty and importance of the surrounding nature. A unique musical collaboration between Zambian singer-songwriters James Sakala, Wezi, and Italian composer Giovanni Agusta is set to open the concert. More artists and acts are being confirmed and will be announced early next year."

The project involves using Livingstone Island as the performance stage for a live music event supported by a light and laser presentation utilising the Falls as a backdrop as illustrated by digitally enhanced promotional images.

Visualisation of the Victoria Falls Live Project

Digital visualisation of the Victoria Falls Live Project

Presidential Approval

A promotional feature released online by Diamond TV Zambia includes an endorsement by President Hakainde Hichilema and interviews with Tommy Lexen, Managing Director of Immersive International and Italian composer Giovanni Agusta Director of Agusta Productions. The two men are also jointly named as Directors of Victoria Falls Project Live Ltd (incorporated in the UK on 8 December 2023).


Green Clams

Zambian Minister of Tourism, Rodney Sikumba, claimed the project is a climate focussed charity concert with a call on saving the planet.

"This concept for a climate-focused charity concert has come at the right time. We are excited to invite the world to see our incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site, the captivating Victoria Falls, in a new and truly unique way," he said.

The grand claims of raising awareness of ­climate change, and involvement of WWF Zambia, appear to be attempts to give thin veneer of 'green' credibility to the event, which appears in every other aspect to be totally incompatible with such a sensitive site.

WWF Zambia have confirmed their involvement in the project on social media, claiming that the Victoria Falls Live Project will be solely a virtual event. 

Unsuitable Impacts

While there may not be crowds viewing the event, there will still be significant disturbance within the fragile area of the Victoria Falls 'rainforest,' supposedly protected within National Parks on both sides of the river.

Nocturnal noise and light pollution from the event are likely to create significant disturbance to local wildlife.

A spokesperson for Keep Victoria Falls Wild, a campaigning group raising awareness of tourism development pressures and their impacts at the Falls, commented: "The authorities of Zambia and Zimbabwe appear determined to drive away all the wildlife, from bushuck and elephants to hornbills and owls, from Falls and its surroundings. Whilst it appears there is a total lack of understanding as to the sensitive ecology of the Falls, they no doubt hope to develop yet more riverside lodges, restaurants and host yet more events such as the Victoria Falls Live Project. However it is the stunning natural landscape and amazing local wildlife which attracts visitors from around the world. They risk loosing not only the World Heritage Site status, but also undermining  the valuable tourism upon which their local and national economies depend. Not to mention the desecration of a sacred cultural site."

Limited Benefits

Details of the proposed event are vague, although it appears there will only be limited benefits for the local tourism sector with the event being promoted as a virtual event to be broadcast to a 'global audience.'

While WWF Zambia are supposedly the charity benefactors of the event, they have limited involvement with the local community or conservation initiatives. Local Livingstone residents have been left wondering who will benefit from the event.

Sacred Site

Livingstone Island is also sacred cultural site, the mists below and ever-present rainbow above the Falls being associated with the ancestor spirits.

On his first visit Livingstone recorded that three islands at the lip of the Falls were used by the three local Leya chiefs for offerings to the ‘Barimo,’ but identifies only one of these sites - now known as Livingstone Island, recording the following in his 'Missionary Travels' on his first arrival and sight of the Falls from this island on its very edge in 1855.

“At three spots near these Falls, one of them the island in the middle, on which we were, three Batoka chiefs offered up prayers and sacrifices to the Barimo. They chose their places of prayer within the sound of the roar of the cataract, and in sight of the bright bows in the cloud...

“The play of colors of the double iris on the cloud, seen by them elsewhere only as the rainbow, may have led them to the idea that this was the abode of Deity. Some of the Makololo... looked upon the same sign with awe. When seen in the heavens it is named 'motse oa barimo' - the pestle of the gods.

“Here they could approach the emblem, and see it stand steadily above the blustering uproar below - a type of Him who sits supreme - alone unchangeable, though ruling over all changing things. But, not aware of His true character, they had no admiration of the beautiful and good in their bosoms. They did not imitate His benevolence, for they were a bloody, imperious crew, and Sebituane performed a noble service in the expulsion from their fastnesses of these cruel 'Lords of the Isles' [Sekute and the other Leya chiefs]

“Having feasted my eyes long on the beautiful sight, I returned to my friends at Kalai, and saying to Sekeletu that he had nothing else worth showing in his country, his curiosity was excited to visit it the next day." (Livingstone, 1857, p.523-4)

World Heritage Site in Danger?

The Victoria Falls are globally known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but perhaps not for much longer. Recent tourism developments on both sides of the Falls have contravened management plans agreed with UNESCO aimed at projecting the integrity of the Falls environment and resulted in repeated warnings from the World Heritage Committee.

The construction of the Zambian Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort, developed on the edge of the World Heritage Site (and in a recognised wildlife movement corridor favoured by Livingstone's local elephant herd) caused widespread negative reaction and resulted in a site visit by UNESCO representatives in February 2022 to assess the negative impacts of the development and combined impacts of tourism development pressures across the site, the report raising serious concerns over the future viability of the World Heritage Site:

"The mission also observed that the property is facing increasing threats from individual and cumulative infrastructure developments, whose footprints are inside the property, its buffer zone or in its wider setting... If the proposed and future developments proceed without the appropriate level of consideration for the environment in which the property is located and for which it is inscribed, as well the cumulative impacts from the different individual developments, the OUV [Outstanding Universal Values] could be considered to be in danger in the near future."

Since the visit a wave of further development proposals have emerged on the Zimbabwean side of the river, including the construction of the Baines Restaurant on the Zimbabwean side of the river, immediately above the Falls (opened in mid-2023).

Supporting Information

Livingstone island is leased as a tourism concession to Tongabezi Safaris, operators of Tongabezi Lodge. who operate tours to the island and opportunity to swim in the pools on the very lip of the Falls, the 'Devil's Pool.' The lodge is currently managed by Green Safaris.

The Victoria Falls was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. The site is managed by the National Heritage Conservation Commission (Zambia) and Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimbabwe).

Keep Victoria Falls Wild is a campaigning group raising awareness of tourism development pressures and their impacts at the Falls. Visit www.keepvictoriafallswild.com for more information.

Downloads

Keep Victoria Falls Wild (August 2023) 2023 State of Development Final Report (pdf, 7.2mb, opens in a new window)

World Heritage Committee (2023) Final Joint Mission Report Mosi-oa-Tunya, Victoria Falls (Zambia/ Zimbabwe) 9-13 February 2022 (pdf, 3.3 mb, opens in a new window)


Monday 23 October 2023

UNESCO denies Zim Minister's Claim of Approval for Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme

UNESCO have denied reports in the Zimbabwe national press that it has given approval to the controversial Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme (BGHES).

Zimbabwean Energy and Power Development Minister, Edgar Moyo, claimed in news reports published last week that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gave approval to the Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme at its recent 45th Session. 

“From our Zimbabwean and Zambian side, we were together saying there would be no environmental impact to the extent that the heritage status of the area around the gorge would be affected. What then emerged was that we are now in agreement with UNESCO and all other stakeholders along the Zambezi that the project has to go ahead.” (Sunday Mail, 15th October 2023)

His comments were quickly supported by the Chief Executive officer of the Zambezi River Authority, Munyaradzi Munodawafa, who stated that UNESCO had “looked at the reports and our presentations and agreed that Batoka could go ahead... Now we are good to go. We are on solid ground and by the end of next month, I will have an actual date of commencement.” (The Herald, 19th October 2023)

Batoka Gorge

UNESCO, however, were quick to dismiss the reports.

"UNESCO’s response to these claims emphasized serious concerns about the Batoka Gorge project, particularly the unavoidable adverse effects it could have on the designated World Heritage Site... The committee not only recommended a re-evaluation of the environmental and social impact assessment of the planned dam but also called for a reduction in the height of the proposed dam wall. Moreover, it expressed disapproval regarding the construction of a new hotel within the site, which was carried out despite UNESCO’s request for the suspension of such activities. A revised study on the planned dam’s impact must be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by the International Union for Conservation of Nature before any further decisions can be made." (BNN, 19th October 2023)

The clarification from UNESCO has yet to be reported in the Zimbabwe press which originally published the claims of approval for the scheme.

The false claims of approval follow the recent 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee, where South Africa proposed amendments to the Committee's draft decision text regarding the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site, effectively diluting the Committee's response to the proposed BGHES and undermining the recommendations from the recent Reactive Monitoring Mission to the site, conducted in early 2022. Both South Africa and Zambia are currently members of the Committee (although their terms expire in November this year).

Read more - World Heritage Committee Dilutes Reaction to Batoka Gorge HydroElectric Scheme (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 27th September 2023).

Read more on the Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website.

Links

Sunday Mail, Batoka power project hurdles cleared, 15th October. [External link, opens in new window.]

The Herald, UN agency clears US$5bn Batoka Gorge power project, 19th October. [External link, opens in new window.]

BNN, UNESCO Denies Clearance for $5 Billion Zambezi Dam Project Near Victoria Falls, 19th October. [External link, opens in new window.]

Thursday 19 October 2023

Yet Another New Hotel Development for Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)

A NEW upmarket hotel is on the cards in Victoria Falls as the prime tourism destination continues to attract increased investments in new facilities under the Second Republic.

Property investment company, Mashonaland Holdings, with interests in health, retail and commercial, is spearheading the project after securing a 1,4-ha piece of land near an existing big hotel facility.

Mashonaland Holdings has partnered with Time Hotels, an international premier collection of United Arab Emirates modern and stylish hotels, that visited Victoria Falls last year to scout for investment opportunities.

Addressing tourism stakeholders and buyers at the Zimbabwe Investment Forum that was organised by ZTA as a side event to the recent Sanganai/Hlanganani World Tourism Expo in Bulawayo, Mashonaland Holdings chief finance officer, Mr Kudakwashe Musundire, said concept designs are being done and this will clarify the total investment that will be put into the project which is expected to start in a few months.

Mashonaland Holdings has completed building a US$3 million 20-bed hospital in Milton Park, Harare in partnership with a health service provider. The project is 98 percent complete and plans are underway to start operating in the next few weeks or months, according to Mr Musundire.

Mashonaland Holdings is also into housing projects and looking at opportunities to partner with different local authorities in the country.

“As Mashonaland Holdings we are super excited to be part of the tourism sector in Zimbabwe. We have got a number of projects that we are at the moment working on, some of them not directly related to the tourism sector,” said Mr Musundire.

The hotel will be strategically located to give a view of the Victoria Falls waterfall and Zambezi River from the facility.

Source: New hotel for Victoria Falls (18/10/23)

Wednesday 27 September 2023

World Heritage Committee Dilutes Reaction to Batoka Gorge HydroElectric Scheme

Keep Victoria Falls Wild, 27th September 2023

South Africa successfully propose amendments diluting Committee decision

- Committee diverted from recommendations of Reactive Monitoring Mission

The World Heritage Committee at its 45th Conference Session, held at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over 10th-25th September 2023, turned its attention to issues affecting the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site (VFWHS) in a discussion held on 13th September (available to view on the UNESCO World Heritage website here (1:52:10 to 2:33:25)). 

Members of the Committee discussed the draft decision text prepared by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN (UNESCO, July 2023) and amendments to the text which were proposed by the South African delegation (UNESCO, August 2023). Both South Africa and Zambia are currently members of the Committee.

The Committee’s concerns mainly focussed on the proposed Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme (BGHES), jointly proposed by the State Parties of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and potential impacts of the project on the Outstanding Universal Values (OUV) of the VFWHS, which includes a section of the gorges extending some 12 km downstream as well as the Falls themselves and a section the river extending some 15 km upstream.


Map showing flooding of the Batoka Gorge from the proposed 
Hydro-Electric Scheme (click for larger view)


Before the Committee debated the proposed amendments, the World Heritage Centre Secretariat presented an opening statement highlighting direct threats to the Site from the Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme (BGHES).

“On the issue of the Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme which is referred in paragraph 4 - we would like to note that following review of the documentations from the State Parties, the WHC and IUCN have assessed that the reservoir area of the electric scheme will extend approximately 10.75 km into the property at full supply level which at deepest point will increase the water level in the property by around 43 m. During the dry season it is reported that the reservoir level  will be lowered, which will reduced the flooded area by 5 km. This means that during the dry season still 5.75 km of the gorge inside the property will remain with the higher water level.

“The project will therefore alter the unique gorge ecosystem and water flow and could potentially impact on the ecological values of the property as defined in its statement of OUV.

“The World Heritage Centre therefore considers that the property should not proceed as currently proposed but should be further revised together with the Environmental Impact Assessment to assess alternative project designs that would avoid these impacts on the property and include a comprehensive ecological assessment of the gorge ecosystem.”

In their statement on their proposed amendments the representative for South Africa informed the Committee:

“The State Party of Zambia has taken utmost care to avoid any possible impacts on the OUV through the selection of an alternative that has no likelihood of undermining the integrity of the site. The chosen alternative clearly shows the tail of the backflow of the reservoir waters will only be located in gorges, with a potential water level rise of only 25% maximum, and as such no flooding of the gorges. And therefore no negative impact on the attributes of the OUV.”

The statement appears to contradict itself by saying the backflow will include the gorges (within the WHS) but that there will be “no flooding of the gorges,” and the claimed “potential water level rise of only 25% maximum” appears to make limited sense without further context. 

The representative from Zimbabwe also encouraged the Committee to support the project.

"The establishment of the BGHES will contribute to the partial fulfilment of the national obligations under the Paris agreement following the UN... COP decision to encourage third parties to promote clean energy production whilst reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuels that are exacerbating climate change and have negative and significant implications on the hydrology of the Zambezi river.

"At present the average of 50 percent of our populations both in Zambia and Zimbabwe lack access to electricity, and ...the investment in clean energy is necessary, and in joint efforts...  our governments remain committed to religiously implement recommendations of the E S I A prepared for this project.

"Given these submissions, Chair, together with Zambia we pledge to continue preserving the integrity of the property whilst ensuring that livelihoods surrounding communities are enhanced through sustainably designed programmes and ensuring that the ecosystems inhabited are preserved to protect the OUV of the property."

The Committee then discussed and considered the various amendments, with the Japanese delegates, in particular, raising concerns over the shift of emphasis away from the request for a comprehensive ecological assessment of the project’s impact on gorge ecosystem environment, instead placing the emphasis on a geomorphological and/or geological assessment.


Google satellite image of the Batoka Gorge (click for larger view)


A detailed ecological study of the gorge ecosystems is essential if the impacts of this development are to be understood. For example the fish communities of the middle Zambezi River system reflect not only the fast-flowing rapids of the gorge system but also a complex regional geomorphological history of major river course changes and river captures, with the Victoria Falls acting as a geographical barrier to the movement of fish and resulting in geographically isolated fish communities downstream of the Falls. Geomorphological evidence has resulted in several theories on the time-scales in the evolution of the Falls and gorge system and the study of comparative fish faunas and species clines has helped refine these theories (Kramer and Van der Bank, 2011). There is still potentially much more that can be learned from the study of the unique fish communities of the Batoka Gorge before they are lost under the waters of the BGHES.

It should be noted that the gorge systems of the middle Zambezi downstream are already significantly affected by the Kariba Dam, and that the BGHES will not only affect the natural river-flow above the dam, but also downstream, effectively modifying the remaining natural sections of the gorge environments. An alternative location, in the Devil’s Gorge, downstream from the Batoka Gorge and above Kariba, would at least leave the Batoka Gorge as a last natural example of the once extensive gorge ecosystems.

Despite the issues raised in the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission report, opening statements from the World Heritage Centre and IUCN and concerns raised by the Japanese delegation, the Committee adopted the amendments suggested by South Africa. The amendments removed a specific request “to assess alternative project designs that will not impact the OUV.”

The amendments effectively remove all the recommendations resulting from the Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Site, undertaken in February 2022 (UNESCO, June 2023), undermining efforts of their own advisory bodies to improve the protection of the Site.

References

Kramera and Van der Bank (2011) The Victoria Falls, a species boundary for the Zambezi Parrotfish, Cyphomyrus discorhynchus (Peters, 1852), and the resurrection of Cyphomyrus cubangoensis (Pellegrin, 1936). Journal of Natural History, Vol.45, Nos.43-44, November 2011, 2669–2699. [Available to download from the KVFW website here.]

UNESCO (June 2023) Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls Reactive Monitoring Mission (February 2022) Final Report. [Available to download from the UNESCO World Heritage website here.]

UNESCO (July 2023) Item 7B of the Provisional Agenda: State of conservation of properties inscribed on the of World Heritage List (WHC/23/45.COM/7B.Add). [Available to download from the UNESCO World Heritage website here.]

UNESCO (August 2023) 7B Amendment/Proposal 45 COM 7B.10 Submitted by the Delegation of South Africa, 26th August. [Available to download from the UNESCO World Heritage website here (direct download).]

Further Information

Read more on the background to the Batoka Gorge HydroElectric Scheme on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website.


Friday 1 September 2023

New Report raises questions over management of Victoria Falls World Heritage Site

(1st September 2023)

A new independent report raises serious questions over the management of Victoria Falls World Heritage Site in advance of the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee, to be held 10-25th September 2023. The 2023 State of Development Report (7.2mb) has been commissioned by Keep Victoria Falls Wild, a group of concerned residents and individuals who are campaigning against a wave of proposed tourism developments which threaten the southern (Zimbabwean) side of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site (VFWHS).

Lights from the newly constructed Baines Restaurant intrude over the view of 
the Devil's Cataract in a picture taken at night on a special tour 
to experience the lunar rainbow

The report raises widespread and serious concerns over the management of the Site, with conservation priorities ignored, concerns over the rapidly increasing number of tourism concessions within the area of the WHS, new concerns over the identification or the Site’s boundary, and significant and serious concerns over the boundary of management zones within the Site - with implications for recent developments within the Highly Ecologically Sensitive Zone (HESZ) which prevents the development of any new infrastructure (including a new National Park development, the 'rock pool', and the Baines Restaurant, immediately above the Falls).

"We believe the combined mismanagement and increasing tourism development pressures highlighted over the last few years raise serious concerns over the future viability of the World Heritage Site with serious negative impacts on the Site’s Outstanding Universal Values already caused by recent developments along Zambezi Drive ... The management of Site is in urgent need of detailed review and increasing scrutiny is needed to monitor and mitigate the negative impacts and pressures affecting the Site - and in which the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority appear themselves to be complicit by authorising and agreeing concession licenses within the HESZ. Failure to react strongly to the current wave of developments which threaten the Site will be seen as a green light to the State Parties to continue the commercial development, and ecological degradation, of the Site."

UNESCO World Heritage Committee 45th Session (10-25 September 2023)

The report concludes by responding to the recent World Heritage Committee draft documents, published in advance of the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee to be held in September 2023, calling the current text inadequate to address the serious and urgent problems facing the Site, especially in relation to developments which have already been authorised by Park Authorities on the southern, Zimbabwean, side of the property. The wording of draft decision for Victoria Falls point 5 reads:

“5. Reiterates its concern over the increasing pressure from tourism infrastructure within and around the property, exacerbated by the absence of strategic planning and also requests the States Parties to produce a blueprint for infrastructure development in and around the property that ensures the protection of the property’s OUV, and to not approve any further developments until the blueprint is finalized and submitted to the World Heritage Centre, together with an impact assessment for each proposed project in accordance with the new Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context, prior to taking any decision that is difficult to reverse;” (World Heritage Committee, 2023, p.19)

The wording of the current draft request for the ‘blueprint’ overview appears to do nothing in terms of addressing the current wave of unsuitable developments within the WHS HESZ and which have already been authorised and agreed between the Zimbabwean National Park Authority and private tourism operators. The report continues:

"After the delays faced by the monitoring mission to the Site, originally requested in 2019 and only undertaken in February 2022, and the subsequent delays in the dates for the 45th Session, there is an urgent and pressing need for the Committee to further investigate and consider its response to the State Parties, and we urge the Committee to request an urgent review of all current development proposals within the World Heritage Site and surrounding Buffer Zone, and request that all current as well as further/future developments are immediately suspended pending submission and agreement of the detailed ‘blueprint’ and ESIA documents requested by the Committee.

"We further believe that the requested suspension on all new tourism developments and activities within the WHS should be maintained until an adequate (and IUCN/UNESCO approved) management plan for the Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks is in place and a new Joint Integrated Management Plan for the Site agreed, including addressing the management of the transport corridor and other areas within the WHS and surrounding Buffer Zone which are outside of National Park control an ignored in current reports presented by State Parties to UNESCO."

The report highlights that the World Heritage Committee has already missed the opportunity to influence some of these developments, which are now already completed and operational (including the Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort in Zambia, opened in December 2022, and Baines Restaurant in Zimbabwe, opened in mid-2023), and risks that others which are in advanced stages of planning and preparation (for example the riverside 'tree lodge' development in Zimbabwe among many others) will be completed before it has time to consider them. 

The report concludes:

"The Committee must act now to influence these developments and put a stop to the continued degradation and fragmentation of the Site. A clear response to the two already constructed and operational developments is also needed from the Committee."

Read More

Download the Keep Victoria Falls Wild 2023 State of Development Report (7.2mb) for more details on the extensive tourism development pressures facing the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site.

Read more on all these issues and developments on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website, including the history of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort and Baines Restaurant developments.

Follow our Facebook page Keep Victoria Falls Wild for latest news and updates.

Please sign the online petition against the current wave of tourism development proposals which threaten the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site.

References

UNESCO (2023) Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls Reactive Monitoring Mission (February 2022) Final Report. [Available to download from the UNESCO World Heritage website here.]

World Heritage Committee (2023) Item 7B of the Provisional Agenda: State of conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List (WHC.23.45.COM.7BAdd) p.16-9.

Thursday 31 August 2023

Is the World Heritage Committee kicking the can down the road while looking the other way?

(31st August 2023) 

The Victoria Falls World Heritage Site (UNESCO, 2023)

The World Heritage Committee have released the provisional agenda and draft documents relating to their forthcoming 45th Session to be held at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over 10th-25th September 2023. The documents are available online on the UNESCO website here.

Among the reports is an update on the State of Conservation for the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site (WHC.23.45.COM.7BAdd, pages 16-19 - we've pulled the text from this rather lengthy document into a separate pdf available to download here).

The update includes the following information relating to the development of new tourism facilities within the Highly Ecologically Sensitive Zone (HESZ) of the Site, and which prevents all new infrastructure developments in these areas.

"In a letter dated 14 March 2023, the World Heritage Centre transmitted to the State Party of Zimbabwe, for comments, third-party information reporting the issuing of a permit for two commercial sites for tourism developments within areas of the property that are recognized as highly sensitive zones according to the JIMP [Joint Integrated Management Plan]. No response has been received from the State Party at the time of writing this report." (World Heritage Committee, 2023, p.17)

The Committee appear to have therefore regrettably missed an opportunity to ensure a response to this issue in time for their 45th Session.

The update continues:

"The property continues to face serious threats from individual and cumulative infrastructure developments within the property, its buffer zone and its wider setting... Contrary to the Committee’s request to the State Party of Zambia to halt the Mosi-oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort Hotel development, construction has continued, and the 2022 Reactive Monitoring mission identified numerous shortfalls and non-compliance with World Heritage status, the JIMP, and the State Party’s own legal regulations. Other proposed developments in the property and its buffer zone have not been assessed as to their cumulative impacts on the OUV [Outstanding Universal Values], in response to which the mission has recommended the States Parties produce a blueprint to guide strategic level planning. It should be submitted to the World Heritage Centre, together with the individual ESIAs [Environmental and Social Impact Assessments] of the developments proposed for approval, prior to authorizing any further projects." (World Heritage Committee, 2023, p.17-8)

The update concludes by requesting a revised State of Conservation Report to be presented to the Committee by 1 February 2024 in advance of the Committee's 46th Session to be held later that year.

We believe the combined mismanagement and increasing tourism development pressures highlighted over the last few years raise serious concerns over the future viability of the World Heritage Site with serious negative impacts on the Site’s Outstanding Universal Values already caused by recent developments along Zambezi Drive (the 'rock pool' and Baines Restaurant). While by the Committee’s own admission the monitoring mission “identified numerous shortfalls and non-compliance with World Heritage status” (World Heritage Committee, 2023) it appears that the Committee is now itself in danger of not acting sufficiently to address these concerns.

The management of Site is in urgent need of detailed review and increasing scrutiny is needed to monitor and mitigate the negative impacts and pressures affecting the Site - and in which the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority appear themselves to be complicit in authorising and agreeing concession licenses within the HESZ. Failure to react strongly to the current wave of developments which threaten the Site will be seen as a green light to the State Parties to continue the commercial development, and ecological degradation, of the Site.

Draft Decision

We believe the Committee’s draft decisions, published in advance of the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee to be held in September 2023 are inadequate to address the serious and urgent problems facing the Site from developments which have already been authorised by Park Authorities, especially on the southern, Zimbabwean, side of the property. The wording of decision point 5 is particularly concerning:

“5. Reiterates its concern over the increasing pressure from tourism infrastructure within and around the property, exacerbated by the absence of strategic planning and also requests the States Parties to produce a blueprint for infrastructure development in and around the property that ensures the protection of the property’s OUV, and to not approve any further developments until the blueprint is finalized and submitted to the World Heritage Centre, together with an impact assessment for each proposed project in accordance with the new Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context, prior to taking any decision that is difficult to reverse;” (World Heritage Committee, 2023, p.19)

The wording of the current draft request for the ‘blueprint’ overview “together with the individual ESIAs of the developments proposed for approval, prior to authorizing any further projects” appears to do nothing in terms of addressing the current wave of unsuitable developments within the WHS HESZ and identified in this report, which have already been authorised and agreed between the Zimbabwean National Park Authority and private tourism operators.

After the delays faced by the monitoring mission to the Site, originally requested in 2019 and only undertaken in February 2022, and the subsequent delays in the dates for the 45th Session, there is an urgent and pressing need for the Committee to further investigate and consider its response to the State Parties, and we urge the Committee to request an urgent review of all current development proposals within the World Heritage Site and surrounding Buffer Zone, and request that all current as well as further/future developments are immediately suspended pending submission and agreement of the detailed ‘blueprint’ and ESIA documents requested by the Committee.

We further believe that the requested suspension on all new tourism developments and activities within the WHS should be maintained until an adequate (and IUCN/UNESCO approved) management plan for the Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks is in place and a new Joint Integrated Management Plan for the Site agreed, including addressing the management of the transport corridor and other areas within the WHS and surrounding Buffer Zone which are outside of National Park control an ignored in current reports.

It should be noted the Committee has already missed the opportunity to influence some of these developments, which are now already completed and operational (including the Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort in Zambia, opened in December 2022, and Baines Restaurant in Zimbabwe, opened in mid-2023), and risks that others which are in advanced stages of planning and preparation (for example the riverside 'tree lodge' development in Zimbabwe among many others) will be completed before it has time to consider them. 

The Committee must act now to influence these developments and put a stop to the continued degradation and fragmentation of the Site. A clear response to the two already constructed and operational developments is also needed from the Committee.

Wider Picture

The Victoria Falls World Heritage Site is not alone in being ignored by the World Heritage Committee. Out of eight sites which received monitoring missions during 2022 and 2023 (four of which were in Africa), none have made the draft agenda for discussion. So far only eight sites (including the Okavango Delta, Botswana) have been 'opened' for discussion during the 15 day conference, although there is a long list of sites with many serious issues urgently needing the attention of the Committee - including the flagship sites such as the Acropolis of Athens (Greece), Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tanzania), Historic Cairo (Egypt), Stonehenge (England) and the DoƱana National Park (Spain).

More

Please sign the online petition against the current wave of tourism development proposals which threaten the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site.

Download the 2023 World Heritage Watch Report for more information and background on World Heritage Sites under threat.

Read more on all these issues and developments on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website, including the history of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort and Baines Restaurant developments.

Follow our Facebook page Keep Victoria Falls Wild for latest news and updates.

References

UNESCO (2023) Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls Reactive Monitoring Mission (February 2022) Final Report. [Available to download from the UNESCO World Heritage website here.]

World Heritage Committee (2023) Item 7B of the Provisional Agenda: State of conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List (WHC.23.45.COM.7BAdd) p.16-9.

Friday 4 August 2023

Vic Falls cements status as top natural wonder

 VICTORIA FALLS, (CAJ News) – THE Victoria Falls is among the top three must visit natural wonders in the world.

This is according to rankings by Titan Travel.

According to the travel agency, “Vic Falls” is only behind Arches National Park in Utah, United States which is the most popular site and natural wonder of the world, with an overall wonder score of 8,29 out of 10, and the Iguazu Falls, on the border between Argentina and Brazil, second with an overall wonder score of 8,19.

“In third place as one of the best natural wonders of the world is Victoria Falls, with an overall wonder score of 8,14 out of 10,” Titan Travel stated.

“The waterfall forms an awe-inspiring natural border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, scoring highest for its number of Google searches, with more than 2.5 million over the last 12 months,” read part of the findings.

Farai Chimba, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president, said this was a huge achievement for the country’s top destination.

“There is a need for tourism operators to up the game and have activities and services that match the standards set by the natural wonder,” Chimba said.

Named a World Heritage Site in 1989, Victoria Falls is the country’s biggest tourist drawcard.

It is one of Southern Africa’s most important tourism resources and one of the main revenue generators for Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Stretching 1 708m wide and dropping 99m at its highest point, it is officially one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Behind Victoria Falls in the Titan Travel rankings include fourth- placed Grand Canyon of America in the US (7,91).

Table Mountain (7,67) in South Africa is fifth.

Other natural wonders in the list top ten are Matterhorn of Switzerland, Mount Everest in Nepal, Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, Angel Falls in Venezuela and Milford South in New Zealand.

Lake Nakuru in Kenya has the ignominy of being ranked the world’s most overrated natural wonder with a score of 1,38.

The researchers said while there are several spectacular man-made sights like the Egyptian Pyramids, Machu Picchu or the Great Wall of China for people to visit, the natural wonders remain less explored yet they are filled with awe.

Source: Vic Falls cements status as top natural wonder (03/08/23)