The Arab States are home to a wealth and diversity of natural heritage, with desert landscapes and marine sites being particularly noteworthy. However, the number of natural and mixed sites currently listed as World Heritage is the smallest of any of the UNESCO regions by a considerable margin.
n so far, only the following four natural and two mixed sites have been considered: Banc d’Arguin National Park (Mauritania); Ichkeul National Park (Tunisia); Socotra Archipelago (Yemen); Tassili n’Ajjer (Algeria); Wadi Al-Hitan (Egypt); and Wadi Rum Protected Area (Jordan).
Despite the efforts made after the First Periodic Reporting Cycle (2000), the Arab States remained largely under-represented in terms of natural properties and transboundary nominations thereby not adequately reflecting the diversity of heritage in the region on the World Heritage List. The results of the second cycle (2010) also showed that collaboration between the different stakeholders and institutions concerned with heritage protection and management remains an issue that requires attention and strengthening. Therefore, the World Heritage Centre called upon States Parties to establish national committees for World Heritage that can foster coordination between different sectors and cooperate at national and international levels towards a more effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention in the Arab region.
In addition, taking into consideration the limited representation of natural World Heritage properties in the region, there was a significant need for capacity building of professionals and natural heritage institutions alike working in this field. Towards this end, the World Heritage Centre also requested States Parties to designate focal points for natural heritage to attend a regional meeting in Amman in December 2011. This meeting, organised with IUCN’s support, aimed at establishing such a network of professionals, enhancing their awareness and involvement on World Heritage, as well as that of the institutions that they represented.
The meeting provided the rare opportunity of bringing together natural heritage professionals from a diversity of countries like Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Tunisia, and Yemen. The presence of a number of site managers from existing natural and mixed World Heritage sites was crucial in moving forward with the meeting’s objectives. Likewise, the conclusions of this meeting identified a number of common priorities namely:
1. Enhance and review legal frameworks and law enforcement measures;
2. - Increase management effectiveness of existing World Heritage sites either by updating and reviewing management plans or raising capacities for their effective implementation;
3. - Promote the integration of natural heritage protection within national policies and priorities and seek further support from decision making and political levels towards this end;
4. - Strengthen institutional frameworks and governance;
5. - Encourage regional collaboration and harmonization of efforts related to nature heritage protection and in particular in promoting the future nomination of transboundary and serial sites, where this is most needed.
6. - Strengthen communities’ involvement in decision making processes.
IUCN took advantage of this opportunity to strengthen its own network of professionals within the Arab region, and establish further communication channels with States Parties. These efforts point towards the right direct but there is room for improvement and further work is needed. Hence, IUCN, will continue to promote the World Heritage convention as legal instrument for nature conservation in the region. Its IUCN-ROWA and IUCN-Med offices in particular, in collaboration with the World Heritage Centre, the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage and other regional partners are working together to develop and implement a regional programme for the Arab States that can support national efforts for the protection of the wealth and diversity of natural heritage in this region.
For more info:
IUCN Focal point for Arab States, World Heritage