Disappearing Treasures: UNESCO sites in Danger

While it’s no surprise that some of the world’s important historical, cultural and natural sites have been battered by war, human encroachment, environmental degradation, and natural disasters, the recent destruction in earthquake-struck Nepal brought home the fragility of some of humankind’s most treasured cultural icons. Last year, 46 of UNESCO’s 1,007 places designated World Heritage sites were placed on their danger list

THE GREAT WALL

Location: China

Date of Inscription: 1987 

The Great Wall stretches over 20,000km, beginning in Shanhaiguan in Hebei prov- ince and ending in Jiayuguan in Gansu, built between the 3rd century BC and the 17th century as a defence system against various invasions. 

The Wall is currently being destroyed by poor farmers living nearby; they’ve been using the stones as materials for rebuild- ing houses, roads, pathways, shelters and even fertilisers for their crops. Sections of the Wall have also been defaced with graffiti and vandalism by visitors. 

VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

Location: North-Kivu & Orientale province, Democratic Rebublic of Congo

Date of Inscription: 1979 

Straddling the border between Rwanda and DR Congo in the Virunga mountains, the Virunga National Park is home to endangered mountain gorillas. The wide diversity of habitat ranges from swamps to the snowfields, lava plains to savannahs. This unique chain of volcanoes is also home to other endangered wildlife like the northern white rhino and okapi. 

Due to war and civil conflicts in DRC’s Great Lakes region, since 1994 UNESCO has an ongoing campaign to rehabilitate endangered wildlife caught in the cross- fires of civil unrest. 

ABU MENA

Location: Mariut Desert, Egypt

Date of Inscription: 1979 

Located south of Alexandria, Abu Mena was an early Christian holy city built in the 3rd century. The city’s church, monasteries, workshops and houses were built over the tomb of the Christian martyr, Menas. It was destroyed by Muslim conquests in the mid-7th century, and was only rediscovered in the early 20th century. 

The site has suffered much damage from flooding in recent years due to agricultural development of the desert region with ill- conceived irrigation methods. 

MEDIEVAL MONUMENTS IN KOSOVO

Location: Kosovo, Serbia

Date of Inscription: 2004 

Located south of Serbia, the site contains four Serbian Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries – Dečani Monastery, Patriarchate of Peć Monastery, Church of Holy Apostles and Our Lady of Ljeviš – which represent the fusion of eastern Orthodox Byzantine and western Roman- esque ecclesiastical architecture with their distinct style of wall painting developed in the Balkans between the 13th and 17th centuries. 

The four sites were added to the endangered in list in 2006 due to difficulties in its management and conservation stemming from the region’s political instability.  

CHAN CHAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL ZONE

Location: Huanchaco, Peru

Date of Inscription: 1986 

The largest earthen architecture city in pre-Columbian America, Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu Kingdom, located in the valley where Moche and Chicama rivers once supplied water via intricate irrigation. Chan Chan had a strict political and social classification, as the city was divided into nine independent units. 

Frequent rains due to climate change have been causing the remains of Chan Chan to erode at a faster rate in recent years, causing the adobe-brick structures to slowly dissolve into mud. 

RIO PLATANO BIOSPHERE RESERVE

Location: Mosquitia Hondureña, Honduras

Date of Inscription: 1982 

One of the largest and last virgin tropical rainforests in Central America, the reserve consists of a mountainous landscape with remarkable rock formations, an ocean waterfall, a lagoon area, and grassland which is subjected to flooding during the winter. The reserve also includes the Mayan site of Ciudad Blanca, and is home to more than 2,000 indigenous inhabitants. 

Illegal logging, poaching, and uncontrolled commercial hunting are some of the issues that the reserve face, in addition to the introduction of species which upset the bio-system of the rainforest. 

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