Protecting the Wonders of the World

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At its annual meeting in Quebec City this week, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee added another 27 sites to its already burgeoning list of places of"outstanding universal value." Now wooden churches in Slovakia, Weimar-era housing projects in Berlin, and Armenian monasteries in Iran have been granted the same hallowed status as the Statue of Liberty, Stonehenge, and the Temple of Angkor Wat. And why not? There are plenty of ways to define"a human masterpiece of creative genius," one of the several criteria for inclusion. But now that World Heritage Status has been bestowed on 878 sites, some wonder whether UNESCO has the wherewithal — and the will — to protect its designated sites adequately.

Francesco Bandarin, the director of the World Heritage Center, , insists it does. The List is part of a convention adopted by UNESCO in 1972 meant"to recognize and protect the world's most significant cultural and natural sites," he says."Over the last 36 years, the Committee and UNESCO have continued to work in line with its original mission." The benefits of getting on the list, he says, include increased visibility, more funding, and access to UNESCO's"knowledge and experience." Including private donations, the WHC has an annual budget of about $20 million; most countries are expected to implement and fund their own protection plans. The mere designation as a World Heritage site, of course, can be a boon: when the Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, England, was accorded World Heritage Status in 1986, says Stuart Smith, a former director of the museum there,"People suddenly realized they were living in an incredible site. They started to appreciate it and respect it."

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