Vic Falls world heritage status not under threat

RECENT reports claimed that Victoria Falls’ world heritage status is under threat. The Daily News on Sunday’s Staff Writer Rumbidzai Ngwenya, had a chat with Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo on the claims. Below are the excerpts of the interview.

Q: There are fears that Vic Falls could be delisted as a World Heritage site owing to construction taking place there. How true is that?

A: At this point in time this is based on speculation. This is a transboundary property, managed jointly by Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

Both State Parties (SPs) are not aware, at the moment of the outcomes of the Reactive Monitoring Mission which is the only legitimate body of experts with the capacity to recommend for the property to be on the list of properties in danger not delisting status. Delisting is a different process deliberated on at World Heritage Centre level.

Zimbabwe and Zambia invited the Reactive Monitoring Mission (RMM) following World Heritage Centre Decision 44 BCOM 7b, which recommended for the SPs to invite the RMM. 

The main reasons which triggered the RMM visit and which were subsequently adopted as Terms of Reference (TORs) for the same Mission were:

i. To assess the tourism developments in the core zone, buffer zone as well as surrounding areas of particular concern being the Mosi Resort Hotel in Zambia,

ii. To assess the potential impacts of the Batoka Gorge Hydro Power Scheme in both SPs,

iii. To ascertain and verify the World Heritage Property boundaries,

iv. To discuss the policy, legal frameworks that govern developments in the core zone, buffer zone as well as surrounding areas among other issues.

The RMM comprising of Guy Broucke (UNESCO) and Mizuki Murai (IUCN) led the Mission from the 9th to the 13th of February 2022. 

The main issues were (i) and (ii). Combined ground truthing assessments and consultations were made to both SPs. 

The Batoka Gorge site, the Rainforest were visited by both SPs. On the Zambian side the Mosi Resort Hotel, islands, Zambia Electricity Supply Company water abstraction site among other sites were assessed. 

On the Zimbabwean side a few semi-permanent tourist sites, islands were also visited. The initial Mosi Resort Hotel project scope has been reduced in line with the World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines, an EIA has been conducted and accredited by Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA).

The Batoka Gorge Hydropower Scheme (BGHES) has conducted a full EIA and above that an EIA addendum, which specifically addresses the preservation of the World Heritage Property Outstanding Universal Values (OUVs) has been availed. 

The dam wall has been reduced from over 180m above sea level to 175m above sea level to avoid inundation from affecting the property.

From the deliberations the RMM experts advised both SPs that the report from the very experts will be shared to both SPs within three weeks from the 13th of February. 

The experts advised the SPs that in the event that the expert’s results are not as to expectations of the SPs there is room for appeals to be launched before the World Heritage Convention 45th General Conference to be held in Paris, France from the 19th to the 30th of June 2022. 

In light of the above discussion the assertion that there are fears that Vic Falls could be delisted as a World Heritage site is baseless and marred by gross speculation.

Q: Can you explain the situation at the animal corridors? Where they tempered with?

A: All animal corridors are intact. Developments taking place in the city as well as the World Heritage Property consider leaving out animal corridors. 

During the EIA stakeholder consultations phase for all the proposed developments many responses cite the sparring of wildlife corridors as a concern and as such this has been adhered to.

Q: How has the Batoka project impacted on the site’s status?

A: The BGHES dam site is 47km downstream. With the proposed 175m height of the dam wall only 7km of the property is inundated. Fears have been coming from rafters and ecologists for the possible loss of Taita Falcon breeding sites. 

Rafting could still be possible since the dam is a running reservoir, flood gates are regularly opened to lower water levels and therefore paving way for rafting. 

The Taita Falcon surveys over the decades showed that the species has been diminishing in numbers. 

The most recent 2021 Taita Falcon survey conducted by ZimParks Ecologists, Zambezi River Authority and National Conservation Commission of Zambia showed that only two species are left. 

These results have ruled out the possibility of the BGHES having a bearing on the species dwindling population. However, there are plans and considerations that the Zambezi River Authority may consider lowering the dam wall by some 2 or less metres.

Q: What measures are there to ensure that it does not lose its geomorphological features?

A: There is strict adherence to the WHC Operational Guidelines, Joint Integrated Management Plan, State of the Conservation Reports, EIAs. Some cases of interest that show that SPs are truly preserving the geomorphological processes include the turning down of the glass bridge across the falls, the erection of the ferries wheel in the core zone. 

All these are against development of permanent structures within the property and buffer zones that could have some negative impacts on the properties Outstanding Universal Values.

Q: Has UNESCO raised concern over the alleged desecration?

A: It has and as such has asked the SPs to invite the RMM. That was a platform for SPs to explain the alleged potential desecration and held physical assessments to that same effect. We are waiting for the RMM outcome.

Q: Are the falls natural habitat not affected on the Zambian side?

A: They are not affected. Mosi Hotel which is located in the buffer zone beyond the Maramba River. 

This project has been reduced in scope and a full EIA has been conducted. Mitigation measures that point to potential impacts to the natural habitat are clearly and succinctly highlighted. 

The golf course and height of the hotel has been reduced. Gabion blocks have been erected to mitigate bank erosion, among others.