Image: Sinharaja Forest Reserve © Ko Hon Chiu Vincent / Ko Hon Chiu Vincen.
The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has received numerous emails with third-party information regarding the construction of a concrete road passing through the World Heritage property “Sinharaja Forest Reserve” (Sri Lanka), which could negatively affect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of this property. The road development was reportedly under temporary suspension, but work appears to have resumed, following an order by the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
Located in south-west Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is the country’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic, and many are considered rare. The reserve is also home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of birds, insects, reptiles and rare amphibians.
The World Heritage Centre would like to recall that, in signing the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (hereafter World Heritage Convention), each State Party recognizes that “the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage […] situated on its territory, belongs primarily to the State.” Each State Party therefore commits to ensuring that “effective and active measures are taken” in that regard (Articles 4 and 5 of the World Heritage Convention).
After receiving the aforementioned information, the World Heritage Centre transmitted it to the Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO for verification, in accordance with Paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. The World Heritage Centre is awaiting feedback from the Sri Lankan authorities.
The Operational Guidelines also specify that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), Heritage Impact Assessments and/or Strategic Environmental Assessments must be carried out as a pre-requisite for development projects and activities planned within or around a World Heritage property, following the IUCN World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessments. The World Heritage Centre requested that the Sri Lankan authorities submit such studies or assessments as a matter of urgency, for review by IUCN, an Advisory Body to the World Heritage Committee, before any construction work is resumed.
In the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the property, adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 38th session (Doha, 2014), it is acknowledged that “development undertaken outside the property indirectly impacts the site through road developments which subsequently open up routes and entry points into the property, facilitating illegal logging and removal of resources”. In view of the significant potential threats caused by road developments, the World Heritage Centre is confident that the Sri Lankan authorities remain fully committed to the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and will ensure that the protection of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve’s OUV remains at the core of decision-making processes for the inscribed area.
In accordance with our mandate to protect and safeguard the rich common heritage of humanity, UNESCO is ready and determined to take all necessary measures in this regard.