19 February 2013

Namibia: Heritage Approval Fate in Unesco's Hands

Windhoek — Namibia would only know by June 2013 whether the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has declared the Namib Sand Sea a World Heritage Site.

The Namib Sand Sea encompasses vast panoramas of majestic dune-scapes, strikingly crystallised in sharply silhouetted forms continually transformed by wind and time. Its boundaries are within the Namib Naukluft Park, south of the Kuiseb River in central Namibia.

The Namibia National Commission for Unesco submitted the Namib Sand Sea Nomination Dossier to the World Heritage Centre in 2012.

According to the Chairperson of the Namibia National Commission for Unesco, Dr Marius Kudumo, an evaluation mission arrived in September 2012 to visit the site. The team then submitted a report to the Board of International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

"After the report was submitted, the board requested additional information with regard to the management plan, which will show how that outstanding universal value would be retained, as well as an indication of a possible future nomination in the same vicinity," Kudumo explained.

At the time that the dossier was submitted, the management plan was in a draft form and could not be submitted. "They want us to respond with the requested additional information by February 28, 2013. The management plan is now completed. With regard to a future nomination, I cannot say anything yet, as the committee still has to sit down and discuss that," Kudumo added.

He further noted that if a possible nomination within the Namib Sand Sea would be considered, the Welwitschia mirabilis could be a possible candidate. The Welwitschia plant is only found in Namibia and in the Namibe area of Angola. It is a plant of remarkably bizarre habits and survives in very harsh localities where the annual rainfall is often less than 25 mm and where the coastal fog is equivalent to about further 50 mm.

The plant's living specimens are estimated at 1 500 years to 2000 years old and are capable of surviving severe conditions of stress.

Kudumo said the final dossier would be considered in June 2013, in Cambodia at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee.

If successfully listed as a World Heritage Site, the Namib Sand Sea would be the second in the country, after Twyfelfontein, which was declared as a World Heritage Site in 2007.

The main criterion for inscribing a cultural or natural heritage property on the World Heritage List is a demonstration of outstanding universal value of the property.

The Namib Sand Sea is unique with its desert scenery, natural beauty and large dunes, as well as the diversity of life forms that have evolved and adapted to the area.

Although the entire Namib Desert, which extends over 2 000 km from South Africa through Namibia to south-western Angola, exemplifies elements of the natural criteria worthy of inscription, their integrity and management are not all as well developed as that of the Namib Sand Sea.

The southern extremity of the Namib Naukluft Park was excluded from the proposed site based on the presence of active Exclusive Prospecting Licences (EPLs), the fossil aquifer which supplies water to the town of Lüderitz and the intention to leave some of the area available for potentially destructive adventure dune tourism.

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