Historic places—our heritage—are the primary sources which give us an account of the complex and intertwined shared narrative of a country. It is these sites and cultures that not only inspire an individual’s sense of belonging but also provide an impetus for their fascination with origins.
However, growing geopolitical conflicts, population booms, climate change, etc., provide all the more reason for the international community to be informed about it and take corrective action against these threats.
At this juncture, the World Heritage Convention, created in 1972 and supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), plays the role of the key instrument for global conservation.
What are the threats?
UNESCO has listed some of the things that pose a major threat to the world’s heritage sites. It further divided it into categories of “ascertained threats,” i.e., specific threats, and “potential threats.”
- Unchecked/unregulated tourist development
- War and conflict
- Natural disasters like earthquake
- Rapid and uncontrolled urbanization
Threats to Cultural Heritage Sites
According to various descriptions, cultural heritage sites face a number of threats, which consequently make them more vulnerable from time to time. Some of the threats listed include severe deterioration of structure and materials, loss of historical authenticity or cultural significance, town-planning coherence, or the effects of rigorous town-planning, and so on.
For example, the historical heritage of Zabid in Yemen has been seriously deteriorated as approximately 40 percent of the historic buildings have been replaced by modern concrete buildings.
Threats to Natural Heritage Sites
The reason why natural heritage sites are even more vulnerable than cultural heritage is their valuable biodiversity. Some of the common threats to natural heritage sites are:
- A severe decline in the population of endangered species, either by natural factors like disease or man-made threats like poaching.
- loss of natural beauty because of human infiltration like industrial developments – mining.
- The outbreak of an armed conflict
- Lack of a management plan or lack of implementation
In most cases, two or more threats interplay to jeopardize a site of “outstanding universal value.”
For instance, years of civil unrest in Niger, coupled with restricted management capacity, have consequently made the wildlife of this heritage site more vulnerable to poaching activities.
As of May 30th, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recognized 139 heritage sites that have suffered devastating effects from the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
In 2003, the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan was included on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The site suffered from multiple military operations and dynamite explosions, so much so that a few areas were inaccessible. As a countermeasure, UNESCO coordinates all international efforts to safeguard the region’s cultural heritage.