Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Is Unesco damaging the world's treasures?"

Simon Usborne provides this long and serious article in The Independent (UK).
Since its inception, 37 years ago, UNESCO World Heritage has become a global brand whose seal is slapped on the planet's most precious places. The Taj Mahal is on the list, alongside the Pyramids of Giza and the Grand Canyon. These are the man-made and natural wonders considered to be of such outstanding value to humanity that their importance transcends borders, politics – and even economics. They are deemed deserving of the ultimate layer of protection – to be placed beyond the reach of polluters, developers, looters, bombers, and the ravages of time. The World Heritage seal is a guarantee of preservation.
He cites the effort led by UNESCO to restore the beautiful and historic center of Dubrovnik in the 1990s after is was shelled by Serb and Montenegrin forces as successful and prototypical of what UNESCO is supposed to do.
But now many within the conservation community are convinced Unesco is failing. They say the moribund organisation is teetering on its once sound foundations as its principles and priorities crumble under the weight of bureaucracy and outside influence. The World Heritage emblem has come to represent a grandiose marketing tool – fodder for "things to see before you die" coffee-table books.
Usborne suggests that World Heritage status is fine for countries that are proud of their sites and have both the knowledge and resources to protect them against the damage done by increased tourism, but that some sites in developing nations are endangered by their very popularity. Moreover, the tourism industry has learned that World Heritage status can be helpful to its business and Usborne fears that the industrial pressure is getting sites of less than transcendental importance included on the list.

Editorial comment: This is an important critique of the program. Surely the World Heritage program is underfunded and understaffed. One hopes that National Commissions and UNESCO's governing bodies will review this situation carefully and make such adjustments as are needed to assure recognition and protection of the sites which are truly so important as to represent the heritage of all mankind.

I have found online commentaries which may be of interest:

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