UNESCO World Heritage Konso Cultural Landscape: Sustainable Rehabilitation and Tourism Promotion
With the rehabilitation of the traditional dry-stone terraces and the planting of trees as well as the resumption of traditional cultural practices, the Konso Cultural Landscape will be sustainably protected. At the same time, income opportunities were created for the local population and training in COVID-19 prevention helps to revive tourism.
The aim of #SOSAfricanHeritage is to contribute to preserving independent and sustainable organisational structures at African World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves with the participation of civil society as well as to secure spaces dedicated to education for global citizenship, sustainability and cultural diversity.
Konso Cultural Landscape is an area in the highlands of southern Ethiopia, characterized by dry-stone terraces and fortified settlements that have been built by the Konso over the last 400 years in order to be able to live in the dry environment. The terraces protect the soil from erosion and store water. The fields on the terraces can be used for agriculture despite the dry climate.
The Konso settlements are surrounded by massive stone walls. A particularity of the villages are the “moras”, communal houses that serve for cultural practices and as meeting places. The forests around the settlements are used by the Konso for medicinal purposes and as burial sites for their ritual leaders. “Waka”, wooden statues carved in the image of the deceased, are erected as grave markers. Water reservoirs located in or near these forests are built by the people collectively and maintained - as well as the terraces - with specific social and cultural practices.
Restrictions due to the pandemic
The ritual practices for maintaining the terraces could no longer be performed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, not only important cultural traditions were in danger, but also the vital infrastructure of the settlements. At the same time, the interruption of the maintenance work also meant financial losses for parts of the local population, who had financed their livelihood with the work. In addition, there was a lack of income from tourism. The precarious financial situation of the population and the parallel increase in the price of building materials made people use stones from the terraces to build their houses. Also, trees from the forests were cut down for resale and cultural artefacts such as the waka were stolen.
Remedy through sustainable restoration
The project, funded by #SOSAfricanHeritage, comprised various measures: The first priority was to resume maintenance work on the terraces. This ensures sustainable protection of the cultural landscape and at the same time provides employment opportunities for parts of the local population.
The SNNPR Bureau of Culture, Tourism and Sport, which implemented the project, worked also with local ritual leaders and authorities to develop a plan for resuming important cultural practices despite the ongoing pandemic. In addition, training on how to deal with COVID-19 was being offered to local tourist guides, staff of the Konso Museum and the World Heritage Site Office. This ensures that tourist visits can be made safe in times of pandemic.
In order to promote tourism, information material about the cultural landscape will also be disseminated via traditional and social media.
On the initiative of the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut, an International Relief Fund was set up in summer 2020 to provide rapid support to cultural and educational organisations abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic. With its special support programme #SOSAfricanHeritage, the German Commission for UNESCO is part of the Relief Fund consortium.
- Site: Konso Cultural Landscape
- Country: Ethiopia
- Type of Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site (cultural heritage)
- Year of inscription: 2011