A stakeholder consultation dialogue on East Rennell World Heritage Site organized by Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) and United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was held last week 31st May, 2022 at the Heritage Park conference centre.
The dialogue under the theme “Towards Developing Sustainable Livelihoods in the East Rennell World Heritage Site” bring together key stakeholders, including community representatives of East Rennell and those based in Honiara, line ministries, provincial government, NGO’s and experts.
The meeting was joined virtually by regional UNESCO partners and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Oceania.
The main agenda of the meeting focuses on putting an action plan by respective stakeholders and through collaborative efforts towards the development of nature-based sustainable livelihoods which are compatible with the World Heritage value.
East Rennell was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1998, as the first natural World Heritage site under customary management and ownership. Since then, local communities have been protecting the World Heritage values against destructive activities (i.e. commercial logging and mining) happening in the west end of the upraised coral island.
However, due to multiple threats to its Outstanding Universal Value (including logging, invasive species and lack of management plan) the site was then included on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013. As of today, East Rennell is one of 52 sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger among 1,154 World Heritage sites, and the only one natural heritage site on the danger list in the Pacific region.
Solomon Islands National Commission for UNESCO Program Assistance Coordinator, Sophie Liligeto, in opening remarks said they are aware of growing frustration among the local communities with few tangible socio-economic benefits emerged from the 20-year+ World Heritage designation.
“In view of continued food insecurity for local communities, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of climate change, there is an urgent need to develop sustainable income generating alternatives for socio-economic development, against unsustainable, short-term solutions including commercial logging and mining.”
She pointed out one of the recommendations made by the 2019 UNESCO/IUCN Reactive Monitoring Mission to East Rennell was to “prioritize the development of sustainable livelihoods for the local communities, recognizing the important role played by women in East Rennell, including through a development plan, and seek technical and financial support from the international community for this effort.”
“This is considered critical in achieving the Desired State of Conservation for Removal of the Property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) adopted by the World Heritage Committee in 2017, by complementing and strengthening on-going efforts to remove East Rennell from the List of World Heritage in Danger by 2025.”
“Be informed that - UNESCO has been closely working with the Solomon Islands Government through the Solomon Islands National Commission for UNESCO, and local communities through the Lake Tegano World Heritage Site Association, to facilitate dialogues towards exploring nature-based sustainable livelihood options in East Rennell, with support of the UNESCO/Netherlands Funds-in-Trust,” Mrs. Liligeto said.
Mrs Liligeto of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources said their first step is organizing community meetings for the four villages in East Rennell last month discussing existing challenges and opportunities in East Rennell, and to identify potential sustainable livelihood options, which were presented during the meeting.
Rennell Bellona Province Parliament Member Dr Tautai Kaitu’u who was invited to attend the meeting reaffirms his continued assistance towards the East Rennell Committee and UNESCO ensuring that logging or mining activities on the western end of the island does not disturb Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the site.
Also addressing the participants is UNESCO representative to the Pacific States, Ms. Nisha, who emphasizes on the importance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals encouraging stakeholders to be serious in their efforts to manage the site.
Presentations were done by UNDP GEF small grants programme, Live and Learn, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Environment Conservation and Culture Division.
East Rennell World Heritage Site Committee Chairman, Jorge Tauika, also highlighted key issues facing the site such as; tourism sector, poor roads, transportation, climate change, livelihood, education, management and food security.
Environment and Conservation Division representative also revealed that they have initiated discussions to build an office space at East Rennell in collaboration with line ministries.
The dialogue sessions covered; identifying challenges and opportunities, sharing experiences and lessons learnt from other projects and drafting an action plan.
East Rennell Council of Chiefs as part of their side-talks also resolve agreeing unanimously on a resolution to nullify and remove paramount chieftainship and replaced by a ‘Chairmanship post in lined with changes in adopted governance system similar to Bellona and West Rennell set-up.
Meanwhile, consultations to have the site managed under the Protected Areas Act 2010 will continue this year. Also, Live and Learn will continue to conduct their partnership to pilot carbon trade projects.