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More support needed for Arab World Heritage sites

By Ruth Hendry - 22 Jun 2011 15:57:0 GMT
More support needed for Arab World Heritage sites

A new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that Arab countries should propose more sites for inclusion on the list, as well as managing their existing sites more successfully.

World Heritage sites are designed to protect areas of global natural and cultural significance. Currently, there are four natural sites in the Arab region on the World Heritage List. These are Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania, Ichkeul National Park in Tunisia, the Socotra Archipelago in Yemen and the Wadi Al-Hitan in Egypt.

"The Arab States are home to an exceptional natural wealth and diversity, with striking desert landscapes and marine areas," says Haifaa Abdulhalim, IUCN's World Heritage Officer in the Arab States. "But the number of natural sites currently on the World Heritage List is by far the smallest of any region. The process of nominating natural sites in the Arab region needs a major overhaul if we want to see more of them on the World Heritage List."

The IUCN report found that Arab countries need to work harder to ensure that their natural sites meet World Heritage requirements. Sites most likely to be included on the World Heritage list should be prioritised, to afford those areas immediate protection. In addition, although significant progress has been made on managing existing sites, some of these areas are facing serious problems. In Banc d'Anguin, more effective measures are needed to control the risk of accidental oil spills, which threaten the park's waterfowl and mammals. Banc d'Anguin is a haven for the Critically Endangered Mediterranean monk seal and many migrating birds. The Socotra archipelago also faces challenges to its wildlife. Socotra is referred to as the 'Galapagos of the East', with many unique, rare and endemic species. Eco-tourism could be an economic boon in this area, but mismanagement of the developing tourism infrastructures is putting increasing stress on Socotra's fragile ecosystems.

"By continuing to improve the management of these sites and by increasing cooperation between countries to support them, World Heritage Sites in Arab States can greatly contribute to conservation and sustainable development in the region," says Mariam Kenza Ali, IUCN World Heritage Conservation Officer.

However, it's not all doom and gloom for the Arab countries' wildlife. The Arabian oryx is one of several conservation success stories in the region. At one time, the Arabian oryx was extinct in the wild. Thanks to a successful breeding and reintroduction programme, populations of Arabian oryx can now be found in Oman, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. If more natural sites were protected under World Heritage listing, we could be hearing about more consevation success stories soon.

Top Image Credit: Monk Seal - © Kathy L