The World Heritage Convention is not only 'words on paper' but is above all a useful instrument for concrete action in preserving threatened sites and endangered species.
By recognizing the Outstanding Universal Value of a site, States Parties commit to its preservation and strive to find solutions for its protection. If a site is inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the World Heritage Committee can take immediate action to address the situation and this has led to many successful restorations. The World Heritage Convention is also a very powerful tool to rally international attention and actions, through international safeguarding campaigns.
Creating reconciliation: Mostar Bridge
During the conflict that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the beautiful Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was completely destroyed. On 9 November 1993, after relentless shelling, the elegant structure disintegrated and fell into the Neretva River. The international community was appalled. Its reconstruction under the auspices of UNESCO represents a landmark event in heritage protection. It has set a precedent in peacebuilding processes and shows that our shared heritage can be a basis for social cohesion, inclusion and citizenship.
Evolving together: Tongariro
New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park values are communicated to the public through signage, publications and interpretation at visitor centres. The Maori have been involved in creating displays explaining the cultural and natural significance of the park, to inspire respect for its conservation. They also participate in developing education resources and biodiversity programmes, and assessing concession applications. Today, Tongariro National Park shows that protecting the environment and biodiversity while preserving and respecting traditional indigenous culture can be beneficial for all.
Saving nature and livelihoods, Belize
In early 2015, the Government of Belize developed an action plan to get the site off the Danger List. A roadmap was developed with UNESCO and other partners to restore appropriate preservation. With the support of civil society organizations – people power – conservation measures were enacted that included better protection for mangrove forests and the establishment of a coastal management plan. Most importantly, the Belizean government, in response to popular demand, halted oil exploration and drilling in all of Belize’s offshore waters. The moratorium on offshore oil eliminated one of the biggest threats to the health of the reef.
Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal
This Park provides refuge for about 400 greater one-horned rhinoceros characteristic of South Asia. The World Heritage Committee, in the early 1990s, questioned the findings of the environmental impact assessment of the proposed Rapti River Diversion Project. The Asian Development Bank and the Government of Nepal revised the assessment and found that the River Diversion project would threaten riparian habitats critical to the rhino inside Royal Chitwan. The project was thus abandoned and this World Heritage site was saved for the benefit of future generations.
The Archaeological site of Delphi in Greece
At the time of its nomination in 1987, plans were underway to build an aluminium plant nearby the site. The Greek Government was invited to find another location for the plant, which it did, and Delphi took its rightful place on the World Heritage List.
Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino in Mexico
In 1999, the World Heritage community campaigned against a plan for enlarging an existing salt factory to commercial scale in Laguna San Ignacio in El Vizcaino Bay, the last pristine reproduction lagoon for the Pacific grey whale. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee forewarned the Mexican Government of the threats posed to the marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the grey whales as key species as well as the overall integrity of this World Heritage site by locating saltworks inside the Sanctuary. As a result, the Mexican Government refused permission for the saltworks in March 2000.
Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest in Kenya
The nomination of this site was first referred back to the State Party on the basis of findings during the evaluation that suggested there were serious threats to the site, primarily illegal logging and marijuana cultivation inside the Park. The State Party responded with an action plan which included provision of additional vehicles, increased patrols, community awareness projects, training of forest guards and a review of the policy affecting the adjacent forest reserve. Based on these assurances, the Committee inscribed the site in 1997. Today, some threats still remain but there has been significant progress in the management of the site.
Sangay National Park, Ecuador
In 2005, Sangay National Park, was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger as significant measures had been taken to address threats. Heavy poaching of wildlife, illegal livestock grazing, encroachment along the park's perimeter and unplanned road construction were threatening to cause irreversible damage to the natural environment. Today, activities such as hunting, mountain climbing or illegal grazing can only be found in a minimal section of the park, and road construction has been modified to satisfy rigorous international environmental standards.
Ilulissat Icefjord (Greenland, Denmark)
Over the years, the town of Ilulissat experienced a rise in the number of cruise tourists. Without proper management, the growing number of visitors led to difficulties such as attrition, crowding and problems of waste disposal. A management plan (2009–2014) was formulated with initiatives encompassing commercial hunting, motorized vehicles, navigation, recreational activities, research and information. When the plan was presented at a public meeting, many citizens joined the discussion about the management of the World Heritage site.
Island of Mozambique (Mozambique)
Decades of wars and economic stagnation allowed the former historic capital, on the Island of Mozambique, to lapse into decay. Under a truly multi-donor rehabilitation project – with financing from Japan, Portugal, the Flemish Government of Belgium, the Netherlands and the Union of Luso-Afro-American-Asian Capital Cities – more than 100 local and Mozambican professionals and students were trained in traditional building techniques, using local building materials and decorative principles to restore the fortress and install a new public water cistern.
Old Walled City of Shibam (Yemen)
The 16th-century Old Walled City of Shibam, Yemen, nicknamed 'the Manhattan of the desert', has been under threat of destruction because of the abandonment of the old agricultural flood management system in the wadi surrounding the city and the overloading of the traditional sanitary systems. Extensive conservation works implemented by partner organizations have resulted in the restoration of 65 per cent of the buildings, and large-scale flood control measures have been taken in the wadi.
Yellowstone National Park (USA)
Yellowstone National Park is the nucleus of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA), which contains six National Forests, two National Parks, and two National Wildlife Refuges. In 1964, to coordinate management of the ecosystem across boundaries, the three federal land-management agencies that operate within the GYA formed the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC).A GYCC sub-committee launched, in 2007, a creative approach to developing an ecosystem-wide Climate Action Plan to identify and reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: GHG emissions reduction projects were identified by each individual GYCC agency unit, aggregate into goals for each unit, and into ecosystem-wide GHG emissions goals. In this way, each unit not only has complete ownership over the emissions reduction actions in the plan, but also has control over its implementation timeline. The plan has evolved into a template for other environmentally sensitive areas in the country.
Mammoth Cave National Park (USA)
At 390 contiguous miles, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world. Even though it was designated a national park in 1941 and inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1981, 80 miles of the cave and most of its 60,000 acre watershed lie outside the national park boundary. Thus, Park staff developed partnerships in many areas of park protection and management: groundwater, river resources, tourism, research and education. Partners include the Biosphere Reserve Council, made up of elected officials, conservation agents, and business people; the Kentucky Department of Transportation; the Nature Conservancy-Sustainable Rivers; Western Kentucky University; tourism businesses; local schools, and nature conservation volunteers.
Fujian Tulou (China)
With the goal of effectively protecting Tulou buildings, the local government has used developing the tourism industry as a critical opportunity for restructuring the local economy, and endeavors to build the county into a natural cultural tourist center and an excellent tourist destination rich in Hakka cultural characteristics. To fully encourage community participation in the protection and management of the heritage, the county government established such organizations as the County Tourism Development Office Villager Supervising Team and the Communist Party Member Volunteers. It also made efforts to enhance local villagers’ awareness of protecting Tulou buildings, through bulletin boards, the distribution of information materials and occasional village meetings to view videos about protection.
Kaiping Dialou and Villages (China)
Inscription on the World Heritage List boosted the steady and sustainable development of Kaiping City’s economy and social fabric. While protecting the heritage site in a scientific way and utilizing the historic buildings properly, the city promoted the development of tourism and related industry, thus providing numerous employment opportunities to the local residents. In addition, the city integrated various cultural resources to develop local tourism and related service industries. For example, local residents are employed to serve as administrators, guides and logistics personnel in scenic spots. They are also encouraged to run farm hotels, and to create Diaolou culture-related souvenirs so that the public can fully participate in the protection of the cultural heritage. The World Heritage status also led to dramatic improvement of local infrastructure.
Old Town of Lijiang (China)
Inscription on the World Heritage List in 1997 has promoted cultural, economic and eco-environmental development of the city and the people living there. It provided the public with opportunities to better understand the Dongba culture as well as the ancient music and handicrafts of the Naxi ethnic minority. This, in turn, has encouraged protection and transmission of this culture. Over 2000 artists in the city have established opera troupes, traditional Chinese calligraphy and art galleries, and cultural product specialty shops. Moreover, the comprehensive development of tourism brought about by the World Heritage inscription has secured steady economic growth. While the city received a total of 845,000 visitors in 1995, the number reached more than 4 million in 2005; by then tourism directly or indirectly provided 116,000 job opportunities to citizens.
Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (Canada)
In 1907, when Jasper National Park was first established, there were several hundred indigenous people living in the park. Park legislation and management then did not consider indigenous perspectives and traditions, and alienated the aboriginal people. Striving to mend broken relationships, Parks Canada created the Jasper Aboriginal Forum in Jasper National Park in 2004. Biannual meetings of the Forum bring together Parks Canada and over 20 Aboriginal groups with a defined historic connection to the park. Over time, shared interests such as “advancing the reconciliation process and facilitating access to the park” were revealed. The most evident change that has resulted from the forum work lies in the new management plan for the park, which was tabled in Canada’s Parliament in 2010. The new plan devotes a whole section to shared interests, incorporating for the first time such points as “aboriginal voices … influencing park planning and decision-making.”
SGang Gwaay (Canada)
The Haida people, native to the Gwaii Haanas (“Islands of Beauty,” also known as Queen Charlotte Islands), operate the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program to safeguard their important cultural sites. The Watchmen, made up of men and women, elders and youth, spend shifts from two weeks up to the whole summer in Gwaii Haanas. They protect the sensitive cultural sites by presenting visitors with a first-hand introduction to Haida culture through sharing knowledge of the land and sea, and their stories, songs and dances. Having started with parties of one or two volunteers thirty years ago, today the Watchmen program is funded from several sources, including visitor fees. It has its own management and provides seasonal employment for the Haida.
Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (Canada/USA)
The goal of the “Healing Broken Connections” project is to build respectful relationships with the ‘Kluane First Nation’ and ‘Champagne and Aishihik First Nations’ peoples and help them reintegrate into Kluane National Park and Reserve. The site became the Kluane Game Sanctuary in 1943. At the time, Aboriginal people’s entrance to the park for gaming and hunting purposes was no longer allowed. Launched in 2004, the four-year project took important steps in welcoming back the members of the First Nations into the area. This was through a series of activities, including youth and elder culture camps, historical presentations and traditional knowledge workshops for Aboriginal people and Parks Canada staff.
The Wadden Sea (Germany/Netherlands)
Since 2010, sustainable and nature-sound tourism has been a focus at this site, and a joint German-Dutch project was launched to develop a sustainable tourism strategy for the entire World Heritage property. Meanwhile, the German National Parks introduced campaigns which proved to be successful. For instance, at the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park, more than 200 tourism and shipping companies work in close collaboration with the national park administration. They offer high-quality service and regional, seasonal, fair and environmentally compatible products. In the Wadden Sea National Park in Lower Saxony, travel by train to the coast is heavily advertised through the campaign “Fahrtziel Natur (Destination Nature),” in cooperation with the German railway company.
Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (Germany/Slovakia/Ukraine)
This World Heritage natural property preserves valuable beech forest and its ecosystem. A trilateral management project among Germany, Slovakia and Ukraine started in 2010, financed by a German advisory assistance programme. The project aims to enhance information exchange between protected areas in this serial, trans-boundary property. The network of experts and protected area management bodies cooperate in such fields as socio-economic aspects of buffer-zone management, and the development of joint information materials for better communication and awareness-raising. Sustainable use of natural resources in the buffer zones is a major component of the project. Considering it is essential to link to traditional practices and ethnic and cultural heritage in the region, the project supports traditional crafts, products and ecotourism, in order to strengthen sustainable resource use.
Wachau Cultural Landscape (Austria)
A scenic hiking trail, called the “World Heritage Trail,” was planned from 2003 and finally integrated into the site in 2010. It is a circular, 180-km hiking route around the property, passing through all of the villages and cities of the World Heritage site. Thus it links all the main attractions of the region, such as monasteries, museums, old city centres, restaurants, wine estates and apricot farms with the unique traditional winegrowing landscape. The trail helps promote the sustainable development, notably in tourism, throughout the World Heritage property. Within a year of its introduction, the Trail has become a major draw of the site. In 2011, a special guide was issued by the site management office and the tourism marketing board, linking for the first time all of the special offers, guided tours and wine tavern opening days along the Trail.
Community conservation: Timbuktu
As of May 2012, the Government of Mali sought help from the international community through UNESCO. Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia were placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger and UNESCO initiated a series of major actions to assist Mali. UNESCO started an awareness-raising campaign on the cultural significance of the mausoleums and their role in structuring the life of Timbuktu’s inhabitants. A Malian ‘Heritage Passport’ was distributed to military personnel, with maps showing the most important cultural sites.
One of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. In 1993, UNESCO embarked upon an ambitious plan to safeguard and develop the historical site carried out by the Division of Cultural Heritage in close cooperation with the World Heritage Centre. Illicit excavation, pillaging of archaeological sites and landmines were the main problems. The World Heritage Committee, having noted that these threats to the site no longer existed and that the numerous conservation and restoration activities coordinated by UNESCO were successful, removed the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2004.
The Old City of Dubrovnik in Croatia
The ‘pearl of the Adriatic’, dotted with beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings had withstood the passage of centuries and survived several earthquakes. In November and December 1991, when seriously damaged by artillery fire, the city was immediately included on the List of World Heritage in Danger. With UNESCO providing technical advice and financial assistance, the Croatian Government restored the facades of the Franciscan and Dominican cloisters, repaired roofs and rebuilt palaces. As a result, in December 1998, it became possible to remove the city from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, near Cracow in Poland
This property was inscribed in 1978 as one of the first twelve World Heritage sites. This great mine has been actively worked since the 13th century. Its 300 kilometres of galleries contain famous works of art with altars and statues sculpted in salt, all of which were seriously threatened by humidity due to the introduction of artificial ventilation at the end of the 19th century. The site was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1989. During nine years of joint efforts by both Poland and the international community, an efficient dehumidifying system was installed, and the Committee, at its session in December 1998, had the satisfaction of removing the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the United Republic of Tanzania
This huge crater with the largest concentration of wild animals in the world was listed as an endangered site in 1984 because of the overall deterioration of the site due to the lack of management. By 1989, thanks to continuous monitoring and technical cooperation projects, the situation had improved and the site was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
International safeguarding campaigns
Sites for which international campaigns were launched in the 1960s, often became World Heritage sites, and the World Heritage concept itself developed from these first international campaigns launched by UNESCO.
Typically, however, international campaigns are much broader in their scope, more complex in their technology, and involve millions of US dollars. The Abu Simbel project in Egypt, for example, cost in excess of US$80 million. Over the years, 26 international safeguarding campaigns were organized, costing altogether close to US$1 billion.
In 1959 Egypt was building the Aswan High Dam, needed to boost its agriculture and power supply. The resulting reservoir lake would drown the area’s monuments. Already the island of Philae was submerged periodically by the Nile’s rising waters. Egypt and its neighbour Sudan asked UNESCO for help to safeguard their precious Nubian heritage. UNESCO took up the challenge and activated a spectacular rescue operation. The Organization would show the world how the treasures of the past could be preserved for future generations, and not sacrificed in the name of progress. The key was international solidarity. UNESCO convened top experts – hydrologists, engineers, archaeologists, architects – who devised a radical plan: temples would be dismantled, moved to higher ground and reassembled.
The longest running international safeguarding campaign has been on-going since 1966 when UNESCO decided to launch a campaign to save the city after the disastrous floods of 1965, a task requiring time, a high degree of technical skill and, above all, money. The international synergy that arose from this project was an important source of inspiration to the founding efforts of the Convention.
Temple of Borobudur, Indonesia
An international safeguarding campaign was launched by UNESCO in 1972 to restore this famous Buddhist temple, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries. Abandoned in the year 1000, the temple was gradually overgrown with vegetation and was not rediscovered until the 19th century. With the active participation of the Japan Trust Fund for the Preservation of World Cultural Heritage and other partners, the restoration of Borobudur was completed in 1983.
In our ever more globalized world, local communities are playing an increasingly important role in heritage conservation.
Along with the many benefits deriving from inscription on the World Heritage List, there are special challenges for those living near, working at, or visiting World Heritage sites. Increased visitation to a site, one of the desired benefits of World Heritage status, can also call for involvement at all levels to have this growth carefully managed. Stakeholders have both benefits and responsibilities and their voice is crucial.
Cooperation at Parks Canada. The project represents an example of cooperation between local communities to ensure the preservation of cultural and natural heritage, including at Wood Buffalo National Park. Parks Canada has strengthened relationships with Aboriginal peoples by developing a framework that engages Aboriginal communities in the planning and management of national parks, national historic sites and marine conservation areas. A video, available on the Parks Canada Web site (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/aboriginal) demonstrates the dedication, knowledge and passion of Aboriginal partners and Parks Canada team members who work together to find new and innovative ways to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of protected heritage areas.