PEOPLE of East Rennell remain sceptical, and became angry, that they have not seen any significant economic benefit from the World Heritage Site (WHS) program since its inception in 1998.
Their frustrations were voiced when a joint reactive team from World Heritage Centre of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and government representatives from Environment, Education Division previously held talks in four villages.
It can be drawn from the series of meetings held at Hutuna, Tegano, Niupani and Tevaitahe that the expectations and aspired development towards the program have not been achieved.
It has been concluded that this situation was the result of lack of attention by key stakeholders including the national government and its partners to develop this national asset in the last 20 or so years.
Tegano people claimed that there is nothing good out of the program.
“We have no project or see the much talked about sustainable development and the 2017 round table recommendations.
“Small funds allocated to assist and nurture livelihood projects were misused along the chain of command in the government,” one villager expressed.
Another villager even threaten to withdraw their customary land from the program.
“Seeing that there is nothing tangible on the ground, we consider withdrawal and do whatever commercial activity on our land.
“Maybe extractive industry will benefit my family rather than waiting in vain for project which some of our elders passed without seeing its fulfilment.
“This program is becoming a joke to us,” the elder man from Niupani village said.
Most Tegano elders claimed that the government have failed to recognize and develop the site as a tourism mecca.
“If the government is fair, they would have include in the budget a road link, airstrip and promote as tourism destination.
“We have all the attraction but how to economize on it is the big problem,” a villager said adding that they have done their part but the government and stakeholders in the program failed big time.
A leading tribe on the island, Tuhunui clan has wrote a letter address to UNESCO in May last year stating clearly their intentions for withdrawal from the program.
Robbert Casier from the World Heritage Centre (WHC) confirmed that they received the letter on a serious note.
But he explained to the villagers that UNESCO will only accept and consider letters signed by the corresponding government ministry.
Mr Casier said they have and will continue to help work in collaboration with government line ministries and the local established association to provide small funds for livelihood projects.
The Missions agenda has been successfully executed fortnightly ago.
The team in the 5 days schedule engages and conduct:
- Assessment of the current state of conservation of the property and the progress achieved towards combatting threats which include invasive species, bauxite mining and logging as well as other relevant conservation issues, including the most recent oil spill accident that occurred near the property, that may negatively impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV)of the property including its conditions of integrity and protection and management
- Provide advice to the State Party regarding possible measures which can be implemented in order to achieve the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR), consult with local communities and customary land owners
- Facilitate dialogue between and amongst different stakeholders/communities and to evaluate how the concerns expressed by the customary land owners can be addressed, whilst fully respecting their right to self-determination;
- And explore possible ways of developing sustainable livelihoods for the customary owners of the property, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, and put forward recommendations to the World Heritage Committee and the international community.
An official report from the mission will be released by UNESCO sometimes in September.
After a decade of logging activities at the Western parts of the island saw UNESCO based on IUCN’s report listed it under “in danger” list in 2013.
Now that mining and the oil spillage effects on the marine environment, it further puts the site on the verge of delisting seeing its only 12 kilometres from the destructive operations.
There are initiatives and action plans that have been undertaken by the previous government to remove it from the “in danger” list and to develop the site as a national asset.
One successive directive has been that of the Commissioner and Minister of Forestry Division to revoke and refuse granting license within all areas at East Rennell.
Some notable directive is for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to revive its development assistance to East Rennell through an inclusive sustainable community-integrated program, for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development to provide technical support on road and air strip improvement and Ministry of Environment to consult with landowners to register the site as a protected area.
Tegano populace are yet to witness the fulfilment of this directives by the government and stakeholders.
The current Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement will have to prioritize Tegano people in their policy statement and showed a renewed commitment to protect and develop the site or else the country will lose its only UNESCO enlisted site just like Marovo Lagoon.
Solomon Islands Government core team for Lake Tegano WHS will continue to contribute to strengthening its mandate and will ensure that it coordinate with key ministries responsible to implement projects.
In the meantime, the core team are expected to submit a second cabinet paper for approval calling for government’s possible renewed commitment, new direction and management plans towards the program.
Source: Government Communication Unit