Here’s how World Heritage status is helping destinations around the world


UNESCO recently added a number of new lists of “Outstanding Universal Value” to its much-vaunted World Heritage List.

The Trans-Iranian railway, the great spa towns of Europe, a lighthouse in France, 14th century frescoes in Italy, adobe mosques in Ivory Coast, an ancient solar observatory in Peru and a “floating brick” temple In India are among 34 new sites (37 including previously recognized places with significant boundary changes), based on the 2020 and 2021 nominations.

Nations are working hard to get their wilderness areas, archaeological treasures and cultural sites on the list, which includes some 1,153 properties around the world. Listing brings prestige and public awareness, and it can lead to all kinds of good things: tourism income, renewed commitments to preserve irreplaceable assets, and public and private funding for restoration work.

In 2022, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the treaty known as the World Heritage Convention. Its permanent objective is to foster global collaboration in the identification and preservation of invaluable cultural and natural assets.

UNESCO officials do not see the list as a mere trophy of superlative places. World Heritage status commits the nation of origin to protect the designated location. The 194 lands that have acceded to the World Heritage Convention are responsible not only for identifying future inscriptions, but also for monitoring how an already inscribed property is protected and managed.

(Here are 24 incredible photos of heritage sites in the United States)

If a site – following a natural disaster, war, pollution, underfunding or aggressive redevelopment – begins to lose value, the countries that have signed the treaty should participate, if possible, in aid campaigns. emergency.

The World Heritage program has achieved major preservation successes. He lobbied to stop a highway near the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, block a salt mine at a gray whale nursery in Mexico and overturn a proposed dam over Victoria Falls in Africa. Its funds, provided by dues from treaty signatories, hired park rangers, purchased parks, built visitor centers, and restored temples. It relies on powers of persuasion more than legal threats, but over a period of nearly five decades, the World Heritage initiative has quietly grown into a force to appreciate and safeguard the special places of the world.

(Inside the ambitious push to protect a third of the world’s oceans.)

But what happens when a destination loses its World Heritage status, which recently happened when Liverpool were taken off the list? As stated in Smithsonian, “the English town has argued that the redevelopment of its waterfront should not disqualify it from the list.” The argument did not influence a UN committee, which underlined “the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the property’s outstanding universal value”.

Liverpool is one of three sites that have been taken off the list, joining the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman and the Elbe Valley in Dresden in Germany. But there are growing concerns that other sites, including Stonehenge and the Great Barrier Reef, may be removed from the list in the future.

Threats to our global treasures are increasing and, unfortunately, the list of World Heritage in Danger now includes 52 sites. Not all are as extensive as the tropical rainforests of Atsinanana, Madagascar, which are threatened by illegal logging and lemur hunting.

(These breathtaking natural wonders no longer exist.)

In the United States, Everglades National Park is on the list, due to severe degradation of its aquatic ecosystem. The Florida site was added to the endangered species list at the request of the United States, suggesting that international cooperation could help solve some of the world’s most pressing conservation issues.

Another UNESCO list recognizes and helps protect the fragile cultures, traditions, skills and knowledge that are integral to a particular place. The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity recognizes local styles of music, festivals, crafts and foods. To achieve this, countries nominate and promote their cultural practices before a UNESCO committee decides whether, for example, Chinese shadow theater or Argentine tango deserve a place.

(Singapore’s iconic, but endangered street food now has UNESCO status.)

In 2020 (the most recent update), there are 584 practices on the list of intangible cultural heritage. These include the art of the Uzbek spirit presented at festivals, the construction of yurts in Kyrgyzstan, and the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. The French gourmet meal is on the list, recognizing its structure (aperitif, starter, main course, cheese, dessert, liqueurs); suitable food and wine pairings; and an elegant table. Passed down from generation to generation, the tradition cements social ties and marks the French identity. Other inscriptions include Mexican Day of the Dead ceremonies, Peking Opera, and Portuguese fado.

Others are added each year, with the committee due to review the 2021 nominations at its 16th session in November. It all comes down to UNESCO’s mission to promote peace through respect for the various cultures of the world and for common humanity.

About Thomas Thorton

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