There are 890 properties, ranging from geographical locations to spectacular landmarks, spread throughout 148 countries, which are currently designated as World Heritage sites.
These locations give a nation a sense of pride and add to its identity. They can often bring economic success in the form of thousands of eager tourists flooding in to catch a glimpse of whatever majestic site the country hosts. They are “chosen because they have outstanding universal value…and are symbols of dialogue, peace, and reconciliation.” (UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova)
However, World Heritage sites are slowly decreasing in number as globalization, conflict, climate change, and natural disasters eradicate their distinctiveness.
In fact, last year UNESCO removed from the list the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany due to its new acquisition of a four-lane bridge straight through the center, as well as the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman due to insufficienct efforts by Oman to conserve the area.
The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, Polish flooding, fires in Uganda, and the recent landslides in Peru have already proven the drastic effects that the environment can have on ruining sites. These disasters have attracted the attention of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), demanding action to protect any still-intact locations.
UNESCO Director-General Bokova explained on July 25th at the latest meeting of the World Heritage Committee, that when these cultural treasures are destroyed, the human spirit of the country is damaged, as well. It is imperative to preserve the chosen sites in order to protect the people.
There are many commonly recognized areas that do not seem in danger in the immediate future, such as the Greater Barrier Reef in Australia or the Great Wall of China. However, there are also lesser known properties in areas torn apart by conflict and disaster such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and more recently Haiti, that need to be addressed.
Before the January earthquakes, the World Heritage Committee had been considering putting several sites in Haiti on the UNESCO World Heritage List. However, the natural disaster wreaked havoc on these cultural jewels (including the 17th century city of Jacmel or the National Palace and Palace of Justice in Port-au-Prince), effectively eradicating any possibility to be chosen.
At the latest meeting of the World Heritage committee, scheduled to end on August 3rd, members have been discussing how to best preserve and reconstruct landmarks destroyed by such natural disasters. The Committee will consider reconstruction of buildings, ecological preservation, and damaged urban areas. They will also decide how to restore the lost knowledge and beauty of museums, art galleries, archives and libraries.
Go to the World Heritage Committee’s website for a complete listing of the World Heritage Sites.