March 16, 2012

UNESCO's effort to preserve the world's treasures

The World Heritage List

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is dedicated to creating dialog among people of diverse cultures. 1972 UNESCO sponsored the World Heritage Convention, a document that spells out  important principles for both natural and cultural sites and provides a framework for their conservation.

To date, 189 countries have ratified the World Heritage Convention, agreeing to identify properties in their national territories as candidates for inclusion on the World Heritage List (WHL). From a broad survey of the WHL, European countries take a global lead in the number of sites listed with over 200 collectively in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom: over 20 percent of the 963 properties worldwide. Though a formula calculating sites per country would grossly oversimplify the process of preserving humanity's inheritance, it’s interesting to note that Egypt and Greece--two of the most vocal nations calling for repatriation of artifacts--have listed a total of 24 sites between them. A total of 725 cultural sites are included on the World Heritage List overall.

For a visual representation of WH sites and locations, see: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list.

Examples of World Heritage cultural sites are as widely variable as the civilizations that created them:  the Quebrada de Humahuaca, in the Rio Grande valley of central Argentina, is valued for its 10,000 years as a trade route from prehistoric hunter-gatherer times through the Inca Empire and into the 20th century. The area includes visible evidence of its past inhabitants including rock art and petroglyphs. In Finland, Norway, Sweden and several other northern countries, the World Heritage site The Struve Arc denotes a series of survey triangulations from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea. The survey was conducted for nearly 50 years beginning in 1816, by astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve. It established the measurement of a meridian, refining the exact shape and size of our planet and fostering development of modern navigation techniques.

By nominating a site for the World Heritage List, a nation agrees to adhere to guidelines about its conservation and management as well as a plan for sustainable ongoing operation. Countries may also apply for technical, training, research and funding assistance from the World Heritage Fund, a pool created through mandatory annual contributions by participating WH nations and other donations.

For more information about the UNESCO and the World Heritage Centre, see http://www.unesco.org/new/en/