Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the planet’s most iconic natural areas, has been listed as the 1,000th World Heritage site. The decision follows the recommendation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the advisory body to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on nature. The listing was announced at the 38th World Heritage Committee meeting taking place in Doha, Qatar.
The World Heritage Committee meets once a year and consists of representatives from 21 of the States that are Parties to the World Heritage Convention. The Committee is responsible for implementing the Convention, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from Parties. Working closely with its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), IUCN’s World Heritage Programme evaluates sites nominated to the World Heritage List, monitors the conservation state of listed sites, promotes the Convention as a leading global conservation tool and provides support, advice and training to site managers, governments, scientists and local communities.
The World Heritage Committee has the final say on whether a site is inscribed on the World Heritage List. It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
“The Okavango Delta has long been considered one of the biggest gaps on the World Heritage list and IUCN is proud to have been able to provide support to this nomination,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “We congratulate Botswana’s authorities on their extraordinary commitment to make this historic listing a reality.”
Situated in north-western Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a vast fan-shaped plain of permanent swamps and seasonally-flooded grassland, spanning an area roughly twice the size of Qatar, the host country of this year’s World Heritage Committee meeting. Its extraordinary annual flooding, which occurs in the dry season, supports one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.
The delta sustains the populations of some of the most threatened large mammals such as the Cheetah, the White and Black Rhinoceros, the Wild Dog and the Lion. It harbours 24 species of globally-threatened birds and is key to the survival of Botswana’s 130,000 elephants — the largest population of the species in the world.
“The Okavango Delta has been a conservation priority for more than 30 years and we are delighted that it has finally gained the prestigious status it deserves,” said Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Its ecological and biological importance as well as its exceptional natural beauty make it a prime example of what World Heritage stands for.”
Okavango supports the lives of thousands of people by providing freshwater, food, building materials, medicinal plants and employment through the tourism industry. The proposal for World Heritage listing was strongly backed by the indigenous peoples living in and around the delta, who have conserved the area for millennia.
Traditional travel through Okavango Delta is in a mokoro, shallow-bottomed boat powered by pole. Photo: Greenwich Photography. Creative Commons BY 2.0 (cropped).
“The Okavango Delta is an extraordinary and iconic wilderness area,” said Cyril Kormos, Vice Chair of World Heritage for IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas.
“The good stewardship of the site by local communities over thousands of years truly exemplifies the close links between nature and culture. The delta has recently faced threats including from extractive industries and World Heritage listing will hopefully help keep these challenges at bay.”
The spread of some silt from a South-bound water flow into the Okavango Delta. Photo: Justin Hall. Creative Commons BY 2.0 (cropped).