World Heritage site evaluators coming
Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
CHARLES TOWN, Portland:ESTABLISHED IN 1993, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP) is still Jamaica's only national park. Encompassing parts of St Mary, Portland, St Thomas, and St Andrew, it is a place of great biodiversity and is protected by law.
It is managed by the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) in collaboration with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and the Forestry Department.
In addition to its protected endemic flora and fauna, the BJCMNP is a region of great heritage value, as it consists of indigenous Maroon communities, and Nanny, our national heroine, lived and fought the British there. Thus, it is a Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) protected area. It is because of its unique natural environment and its heritage value that JCDT, the Ministry of Culture, the Forestry Department, the JNHT, and NEPA want the BJCMNP to be inscribed a World Heritage Site, by the World Heritage Convention.
But before inscription can be awarded, the site has to be nominated first. The evaluators, in the form of advisory bodies, will be in Jamaica from October 27 to November 2, and in June next year the World Heritage Committee will meet in Germany to consider Jamaica's nomination proposal. This was disclosed at a community meeting in Charles Town, Portland, on Friday, August 15.
The meeting, hosted by representatives from the JNHT, the JCDT, the Ministry of Justice and the Forestry Department, was to update the Charles Town Maroons about the nomination and to sensitise them about the criteria for nomination. Charles Town is one of the cultural heritage sites in the region. Earlier in the day, there was another meeting in Scotts Hall, St Mary.
These two communities are parts of the cultural heritage of the region. Cultural and natural heritage are the two categories that the World Heritage Convention uses to determine transcription. The convention defines the kind of natural or cultural sites that can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.
Article 1 of the convention says cultural heritage consists of "monuments, groups of buildings, and sites" , "works of man or the combined works of nature and man", while Article 2 says natural heritage consists of "natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view; geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas ... ."
In light of this, nomination is being sought for the BJCMNP, according to Dr Susan Otuokon, executive director of the JCDT, because the area is very unique in its biodiversity and natural heritage and the use of the natural heritage by the Windward Maroons.
The BJCMNP "is important and unique in terms of the natural environment and also because of how that natural environment was used by the Windward Maroons to establish their culture", Dr Otuokon said. The war between Nanny and the Windward Maroons, and the British was waged in the region now known as the BJCMNP.
According to Debra Palmer, of the Ministry of Culture, the park is "not only important for us in Jamaica, but it has universal significance". "It belongs to the humanity of the world, cultural and natural heritage of the world," she said. But for the park to be nominated, Jamaica has to show that the site has integrity and authenticity, and that is strongly managed and protected. It has to meet one of 10 criteria, six cultural, and four natural. Four criteria will be proposed for the BJCMNP, which is competing with hundreds of sites from around the world for this prestigious ratification.
Nomination does not mean automatic ratification, and "once a site has been nominated and evaluated, it is up to the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee to make the final decision on its inscription. Once a year, the committee meets to decide which sites will be inscribed on the World Heritage List. It can also defer its decision and request further information on sites from the States Parties", the convention says.
But how will such a designation benefit the BJCMNP? The convention says it "serves as a catalyst to raising awareness for heritage preservation. A key benefit of ratification, particularly for developing countries, is access to the World Heritage Fund ... . Emergency assistance may also be made available for urgent action to repair damage caused by human-made or natural disasters. In the case of sites included on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the attention and the funds of both the national and the international community are focused on the conservation needs of these particularly threatened sites".
The convention also says, "The inscription of a site on the World Heritage List brings an increase in public awareness of the site and of its outstanding values, thus also increasing the tourist activities at the site. When these are well planned for and organised respecting sustainable tourism principles, they can bring important funds to the site and to the local economy."
These are some of the issues discussed at the meeting, as well the importance of preventing activities, such as fish poisoning and bush fires, that will compromise the nomination efforts for the site.