The United Nations has informed the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe that Victoria Falls could lose its unique heritage status if a hotel, golf course and a power station is built at the site.
The projects that are threatening the status of the Victoria Falls are the planned Batoka hydro power project and the Raddison Blu Livingstone Hotel and Golf Course financed by NAPSA.
The UNESCO team has also called for a halt to the building of the 300-bed hotel in Livingstone.
According to Lusaka Times, the plans by the two countries’ governments have concerned UNESCo officials, as the golf course could disrupt an established elephant corridor.
Victoria Falls is the world’s largest sheet of falling water, featuring unique rock structures, and earned its world heritage site status in 1989.
The Times states a UNESCO report, written after officials visited the site for five days, cites the “inconsistency in the use of precise boundaries and buffer zones” on plans published by the authorities in Lusaka and Harare.
A lack of full transparency about ambitious projects on either side of the Zambezi river which feeds the falls is fuelling local rumours of corruption, the paper adds.
Although both countries are under huge pressure to improve their citizens’ access to power, heritage officials said the proposal for a new hydroelectric dam “should not proceed as currently proposed”.
If development pressed ahead, the area’s special status “could be considered to be in danger in the near future”, the delegation said.
The proposals are part of Zimbabwe government’s ambitions to improve domestic energy production and build a tourism sector worth $5 billion by 2025.
An unusually punchy report for the next meeting of the world heritage committee warned that the southern African site is “facing increasing threats” from a number of developments inside the protected area.
The UN body has the mandate to carry periodic assessments.
Zambia National Commission Secretary General for UNESCO, Charles Ndakala, led the monitoring team.
Tanyaradzwa Mundoga, Zimbabwe Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Ministry deputy director responsible for Natural Resources, said there is need to safeguard the natural habitat so as to keep Victoria Falls in its pristine state.
Tourism executive, Clement Mukwasi, who is Shearwater Adventures spokesperson, said the industry will be guided by the UNESCO findings.
Victoria Falls’ falling water blanket is about 1,7km wide and falls 108 metres down the gorge and is classified as the largest waterfall in the world.
The waterfall is within Victoria Falls National Park, which together with the Victoria Falls bridge, attract a significant number of tourists annually.