Monday, October 11, 2010

UNESCO Adds New World Heritage Sites, Downgrades Others

The Three Sisters rock formation, Katoomba, Greater Blue Mountains Area, Australia (UNESCO date of Inscription: 2000) (photo by Simone Cannon)  

Last autumn, Luis and I visited the United States (the first time for Luis) to visit my family and friends and to hike some of the amazing U.S. National Parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Arches and Yosemite. Luis was blown away not only by the incredible natural beauty of the parks, but also by how well-maintained they are. As a South American, he was in awe of the respect that most North Americans and their visitors showed when visiting the parks: throwing garbage into receptacles, picking up other people's garbage, staying on marked paths, taking painstaking care not to damage plants and trees or feed wild animals. Although the many gorgeous national parks and other nature preserves in developing countries are generally well-maintained, there tends to be less conscientiousness on the part of locals and visitors, especially in unprotected areas, where garbage is strewn into forests, lakes and rivers and historic buildings sustain damage from graffiti and other vandalism or from falling into disrepair. Luckily, many areas in both North and South America (as well as the rest of the world) are being protected and restored by international organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Iguazu Falls, Argentina (UNESCO date of Inscription: 1984) (photo by Luis Bastardo)

Luis and I love to hike, climb and kayak whenever we can, and also like to visit historic sites, so when traveling, we always make a beeline for either national parks or UNESCO World Heritage Sites which usually have well-marked trails, stunning views and something of historical interest. After visiting the colonial city of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil in July, we are now up to 81 UNESCO site visits and counting. Okay, true, there are 911 official sites in total, meaning that we still have to visit 830 sites to complete the list, including places deep in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and we'll probably have to live to be 487 years old to complete the list, but still...  

Young coyote in Yosemite National Park, United States (UNESCO date of Inscription: 1984) (photo by Luis Bastardo)

Every year, the UNESCO committee (this year consisting of representatives from Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Jordan, Brazil, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Sweden, and Thailand) determine which new nominations will be inscribed on the official World Heritage Site list, thereby receiving international funding, awareness and support. At the conclusion of the 2010 34th session, from the current list of 1494 nominations submitted by member states, 21 were selected to be added to the official list (15 cultural sites, 5 natural sites, 1 mixed), bringing the count to 911. Additionally, four existing sites were moved to the List of World Heritage in Danger, bringing the count of endangered sites to 34. This year, Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery, Georgia, Rainforests of the Atsinanana, Madagascar, Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi, Uganda, and  Everglades National Park, United States were flagged as endangered. Each of the 34 sites on the endangered list is in dire need of protection or reparation due to environmental threats, such as oil spills and industrial pollution in the case of the Everglades, natural disasters such as earthquakes or flooding, as in the Iranian city of Bam, or warfare, willful destruction and terrorism as have affected the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan.

Angkor Wat temple site, Siem Reap, Cambodia (UNESCO date of Inscription: 1992) (photo by Simone Cannon)

Next week: the history and mission of UNESCO and what you can do to save endangered sites

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