Monday, January 03, 2005

UNESCO Helps Protect Xochimilco's Canals

Richmond article: World Focus: World Heritage Site :

MEXICO CITY: Officials say at least 25,000 people are living illegally on the federally protected marsh land serving the ancient canals of Xochimilco. "Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, Xochimilco's canals have been overrun by illegal housing settlements that pollute the already filthy water and gobble up space for chinampas -- the floating islands of crops grown with techniques dating from the Aztecs. 'The sprawl moves so quickly, one day there may be little else left,' says Ciro Caraballo, a development expert assigned by UNESCO to slow the damage to Xochimilco.

"UNESCO opened a Xochimilco office a year ago to take a more active role in conservation efforts. The office plans to issue a report in February offering ideas on how to pursue conservation efforts without upsetting the area's residents. Xochimilco was declared an international treasure in part to protect its floating islands of flowers, corn, pumpkins, beans and other crops. But as the area becomes more popular for housing, it is getting harder to persuade small farmers to stay..........

"Faustino Soto, Xochimilco's borough president, says his administration is taking a "realistic, not utopian" approach to the illegal settlements, leaving long-established properties alone while focusing on stopping new ones.

"Mexico's federal, state and local governments have given him a conservation budget of nearly $60 million for 2005, which will be used to plant trees and line the edges of canals with sticks to prevent erosion.

"A UNESCO world heritage designation does not bring monetary help but generates tourist interest and makes it easier to attract international funds. Mexico is among the leaders in world heritage sites, with 24. The United States has 20."

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