The Taj MahalWould you give a nickel a year to assure that the Parthenon and other remnants of ancient Athenian culture would be maintained and protected so that you, your children and their children could visit it in the future? How about the Pyramids of ancient Egypt or the ruins of the ancient city of Thebes? The Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Teotihuacan, the Inca tuins of Machu Piccu, or Petra -- "the rose red city at the end of time." How about Venice, the Renaissance riches of Florence, or the site of the Roman forum and Colosseum? These are among the 890 sites that the 186 countries signatory to UNESCO's World Heritage Convention have pledged to protect.
I would guess that there are 100 of these sites that I would contribute a cent or more each to protect if there were a simple way to do so, and perhaps another 100 that I would happily support if only I knew more about them.
I calculate that the annual contribution of the United States to the World Heritage Center is about 1/3rd of a cent per person! The World Heritage Center is starved of financial and personnel resources.
I know that I am more enthusiastic about these sites than many people, in part because I have been fortunate enough to visit those mentioned above and many more. Our Congress is the place where compromises are made as to how much we are willing to pay on the average for something we want the government to do. Is it reasonable that the Congress could agree on a U.S. contribution to the World Heritage center of 25 cents per person? If so, the U.S. would contribute $75 million per year. With such U.S. leadership, the rest of the world might well raise the total budget of UNESCO's World Heritage Center to well over $300 million per year. With that kind of support, the Center could really help countries to maintain world heritage sites and could help educate us all about the legacy of past civilizations. Indeed, with such support the World Heritage Center could have the global influence to strongly encourage countries to maintain their key world heritage sites.
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Americans for UNESCO.)