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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).


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.


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 25 August 2023

Ambitious Victoria Falls transformation plan outlined

Victoria Falls is already Zimbabwe’s biggest tourism destination, but wants to ever improve, with the Government promising to continue promoting investments into the tourism city in a variety of non-polluting industries that encourage ever more visitors.

President Mnangagwa conferred city status to Victoria Falls in December 2019 making it the youngest city in the country.

Victoria Falls has also been designated a special economic zone setting the city as the centre for construction of convention centres, state-of-the-art hotels, medical tourism facilities, financial services hub, shopping malls and other facilities offering tourist activities.

Plans are underway to build Masue City, which will have a convention and conference centre, five-star hotels, medical facilities and shopping malls to make Victoria Falls a conference capital.

The special economic zone will stretch to Hwange and Binga districts. In 2020 the Second Republic established the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange, the only United States dollar-denominated bourse in the region as part of efforts to implement the zone and the exchange has since attracted 14 listings in its first three years.

Several hotels including Palm River Hotel, Mbano Manor Hotel, Zambezi Boutique, Mpala Jena and others have been built during the first five years of the Second Republic with a number of other projects underway in the city.

Vice President Chiwenga said Government wants to transform Victoria Falls into the little Vegas with state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure that is commensurate with a resort city.

This includes establishing firms and companies outside the tourism sector.

Speaking recently in the tourism capital, Vice President Chiwenga said a number of countries such as India, China and Russia are interested in investing locally as the country continues to fight sanctions.

“What we want is that Victoria Falls should not just be a place of leisure but have economic activity and the Second Republic under President Mnangagwa will lead this,” he said.

“The infrastructure that has been built here during the Second Republic like Victoria Falls Boutique, Palm River Hotel, Mbano Manor and others are few compared to what is coming. Many countries are interested in coming to work with us,” said VP Chiwenga.

He said the Government was constructing health facilities and pharmacies across the country in every province and Victoria Falls will have a dedicated pharmaceutical centre so that it has medicines ready for tourists as the country promotes medical tourism.

“The President gave you Special Economic Zone status, city status, stock exchange, an art gallery and you have an airport. We want to build non-polluting industries here such as pharmacies and sports facilities,” said Dr Chiwenga.

“We want to build many hospitals so that those from other countries who want to come for treatment while enjoying the natural environment can do so. Victoria Falls should have special magistrates’ courts, a High Court and a Civil Registry to process passports and other documents as we bring services close to the people.”

VP Chiwenga said the city should have its own TV station.

He said while Government is rehabilitating the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road to enhance access to the destination, plans are underway to fix feeder roads including the Victoria Falls-Binga road that goes via Chisuma, Jambezi and Deka along the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba.

The Second Republic’s ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ mantra and policy of engagement and re-engagement have promoted growth despite sanctions imposed on the country by western countries.

In an interview, Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Richard Moyo said the growth of Victoria Falls will translate to the growth of the whole province.

“Development of Victoria Falls is important to us as a province because it is a tourism hub and as such its growth will be felt across the entire province,” said Minister Moyo.

Source: Ambitious Victoria Falls transformation plan outlined (24/08/24)

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)