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World Heritage sites in danger

By Ruth Hendry - 24 Jun 2011 20:9:0 GMT
World Heritage sites in danger

After the news of mismanagement of World Heritage sites in Arab countries, the IUCN has revealed that mining and lack of law enforcement are threatening the unique wildlife found in natural World Heritage sites. World Heritage sites are designed to protect areas of global natural and cultural significance. These sites are listed and monitored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) advises UNESCO on World Heritage sites and has raised concerns over the number of planned mining, oil and gas projects in these protected areas.

"The mining, oil and gas industries, as well as governments who licence mineral extraction, should follow the example of business leaders who have already committed not to undertake mining and oil/gas projects within World Heritage sites," says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN's World Heritage Programme.

"These exceptional places, which cover less than 1% of the Earth's surface, have been included on the World Heritage List because they are of outstanding value to all of humanity. It's the duty of every one of us to cooperate in their protection and conservation. That duty includes the extractive industry," Badmanadds.

IUCN have stated that mining and oil/gas exploration should not be permitted within World Heritage sites. African World Heritage sites are particularly at risk from commercial mining and oil/gas exploration, with a quarter of all sites threatened. Threatened sites include Virunga National Park, which is home to one of the two populations of critically endangered mountain gorillas.

"We are seriously concerned that African natural World Heritage sites, many of which are already inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, are increasingly threatened by mining and oil/gas projects," says Mariam Kenza Ali, IUCN's World Heritage Conservation Officer. "Fortunately, these projects are still at the planning stage, which means that governments, mining and oil/gas companies, financial backers and other stakeholders have a window of opportunity to make the right decisions for future generations by committing to preserving these outstanding sites and thereby also safeguarding the livelihoods of local people and Africa's long-term sustainable development."

As a result of the impact of mining and oil/gas exploration, sites can be added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. In extreme cases, a site can be removed from the World Heritage list.

Exploitation of a different kind is affects other World Heritage sites. The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras and the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia, have been added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, on the advice of the IUCN.

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is the biggest protected area in the Honduras and has been added to the Danger List at the request of the Honduran government. Illegal settlement and logging, over-fishing and a proposed damn construction are threatening the reserve's pristine mangrove habitat. Adding the reserve to the Danger List will provide the Honduran government with international support to protect the area. Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is not only home to a wealth of wildlife; it also supports 2,000 indigenous people whose traditional way of life depends on the reserve's natural resources.

Road construction and agricultural encroachment are threatening the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, leading to its inclusion on the Danger List. Recent UNESCO/IUCN monitoring missions in the last five years have led to the recommendation of an emergency restoration plan for the area.

Two others sites, the Virgin Komi Forests in Russia, and the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, were both recommended for inclusion on the Danger List, but have not been added thus far. Badman expressed his disappointment with this outcome, saying: "We should remember that the Danger List is not a black mark for countries, but a way of drawing attention and providing support to the sites that need it the most."

Top Image Credit: © gaelj