The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has assessed that some World Heritage sites are in danger. These sites are globally recognized as the world’s most important protected areas inscribed by UNESCO for their unique natural values, intactness of ecological processes, the scale of natural resources, the viability of populations of rare species, as well as exceptional natural beauty.
Despite being recognized for their global importance, Word Heritage sites continue to face serious threats susceptible to pervasive human activities such as deforestation in favor of ranches, poaching, infrastructural development, and extractive activities. Deeper societal issues, such organized crime, drug trafficking, impacts of climate change, and regional wars have rendered World Heritage Sites under serious threats. At present, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean regions have the most threatened UNESCO World Heritage Sites with 55% of the sites under worrying threats of extinction.
World Regions with the Most Threatened UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Mesoamerica and the Caribbean
Occupying only 0.5% of the world’s land surface, the Mesoamerica and the Caribbean regions host about 7% of the earth’s biological diversity. Their rich landscapes historically served as a land bridge linking North and South America’s flora and fauna. It is also a region where cultural and natural heritage overlap with numerous indigenous communities and protected areas that vestige ancient civilizations. 55% of the region's sites are in danger of extinction with major concerns featuring the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, and the Everglades National Park in the U.S.
Natural and cultural heritage sites in Africa are in danger threatened by pervasive human activities. Although only 10% African sites are listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage list, 52% of these sites are under serious threats of extinction. Commercial and subsistence poaching activities have affected most of the natural heritage sites with the practice expected to spread to other sites following the increased global demand for animal products. The demand to develop Africa to global infrastructural standards has immensely threatened the heritage sites to pave way for construction of roads, railway systems, and dams. The major concerns encompass the Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park, Tropical rainforests of Congo, The Selous Game Reserve, and the Abu Mena in Egypt threatened by logging, poaching, and deforestation.
South America is a fount of stunning landscapes, historic sites, diverse ecosystems, and architectural masterpieces. However, 52% of these historic sites and landscapes are under threat due to climatic change and human encroachment of the forest. The Galapagos Islands, the Rapa Nui, and the Iguacu National Park are part of the major concern regions with rich cultural and historical backgrounds and diverse landscapes.
The Arab States
Arab states are home to the oldest human civilizations. Regional conflict, wars, trafficking, and terrorism have destroyed 38% of the World Heritage Sites in Arab states. Islamic extremists such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other combatants in the Arab states mainly target historic landmarks such as ancient cities and take hostage of historic sites as their battlegrounds. UNESCO has warned of that Greek and Roman antiquities and prehistoric artworks in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are at peril and might be completely destroyed if no action is taken to preserve them.
The Venice Lagoon in Italy, Archaeological site of Ererouyk, the Convent of St. Anthony of Padua, and the Patarei Sea Fortress are some of the most endangered Heritage sites in Europe. In total, 37% of the heritage sites are in danger due to lack of adequate resources and neglect by concerned parties to preserve their global importance.
Asia is one of the fastest developing regions in the world in terms of economic development and population growth. The high demand for settlement fields has led to the immense destruction of the rich Asian cover to pave way for human settlement, agricultural and infrastructural development in the region. Unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, and regional conflict in Asia have also contributed to the endangering of heritage sites. Of the natural and cultural heritage sites in Asia, 26% are in great danger as the population growth rate is expected to grow within the next decade. The major areas of concern in Asian encompass the Komodo National Park, home to world’s largest dragon lizards, Manas Wildlife Sanctuary hosting the last population of the one-horned rhinoceros, and Indonesia’s 2.5ha Tropical Rainforest Heritage.
Oceania and the surrounding Pacific regions have had historic ties to the seas that have left a spectacular legacy of submerged archeological sites ranging from vestiges of sacred and residential villages, ship wreckages from the era of early explorers, to the widespread remains of the Second World War battles preserved in the depths of the ocean. However, the region’s inestimable wealth faces a danger of extinction from climate change and destructions from natural disasters such as tsunamis. It is approximated that 19% of the heritage sites in Oceania are under threat with the main concerns being the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati, and the East Rennell in the Solomon Island.
North America has the lowest percentage of its heritage sites under threat from human activities and natural disasters. Only 10% of the continents world heritage sites have been identified to be at peril from ongoing human development projects. The La Fortaleza in San Juan and Monte Alban Archaeological Site in Mexico have a rich historic culture that is highly threatened by neglect by government agencies. Hydroelectric, construction of reservoirs, and oil sands development plans have threatened the extinction of some sites, with Canada’s biggest national park being the most endangered. If no action is taken in North America by the respective parties, more sites will be endangered.
The assessment of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO allows the international community to come together and encourage corrective action over the ascertained and potential dangers to heritage sites. Pervasive human activities characterized by poaching, pollution, uncontrolled urbanization, and natural disasters are the major threats to World Heritage Sites. Nevertheless, combined corrective action by the global community can be an effective means to respond to specific preservation needs of historic and cultural sites.