UNESCO World Heritage Lakes of Ounianga: Reforesting Oases and Gaining Land
The funds of the #SOSAfricanHeritage programme enabled the site management to maintain income-generating activities for the local population as well as conservation measures to preserve the World Heritage site and its values.
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.
The site comprises eighteen interconnected lakes in the Sahara, covering an area of 62,808 ha. It is an exceptional natural landscape of great beauty with striking colours and shapes. The salt, hypersalt and freshwater lakes are fed by groundwater and are located in two groups 40 km apart: Ounianga Kebir comprises four lakes, whose highly saline waters are home only to algae and some micro-organisms. The second group, Ounianga Serir, comprises fourteen lakes separated by sand dunes. Floating reed covers almost half of the surface of these lakes and reduces evaporation. With their high-quality fresh water, some of these lakes are home to aquatic fauna, especially fish. Because of its geographical location, the natural heritage site is put at risk by shifting sand dunes, which threaten not only the lakes but also the palm gardens in the oases that provide the local population with food and commercial products.
Restrictions due to the pandemic
Thanks to the income from tourism, the World Heritage site has been able to take regular measures against the silting up of the oases and reclaim agricultural land. Now, with the ongoing pandemic and closed borders, this source of funding has dried up and there is no government subsidy. As a result, the protection measures that are regularly implemented by the population and site management to maintain the integrity of the site have been halted.
Relief through effective management
The financial support of the German Commission for UNESCO strengthened the operational capacities of the local population and the site management so that they were able to resume measures to preserve the World Heritage site. In order to keep the lakes from silting up, the local population planted shrubs adapted to the dry environment and erected fences made of date palm branches. These serve as wind breakers and prevent the shifting of the sand dunes during the period of strong desert winds.
To protect the ecosystem, the site management organised several waste collection events and put up signs to raise awareness among the local population and tourists. With the project funding, small agricultural tools and seeds could be purchased for women's organisations as well. This enabled them to resume vegetable cultivation, date processing and handicrafts to generate income. Another part of the project was to inform the local population about Covid-19 and to provide appropriate protective equipment. The site management distributed masks and soap, set up washbasins and conducted awareness campaigns in the local language.
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: Lakes of Ounianga
- Country: Chad
- Type of site: UNESCO World Heritage (natural heritage)
- Year of inscription: 2012