Commonly known as the World Heritage Convention, the international treaty created to protect the world’s treasures (to date, 878 of them) was created in 1972. The impetus for the creation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage Conservation Program began with a plan to build an Egyptian dam.
Worried about the implications for the Egyptian ancient treasures that lay in the new dam’s proposed pathway, a plan to move some of these ancient monuments was hatched. Ambitious rescue efforts of the ancient Nubian treasures, including Abu Simel, began in 1960 thanks to an appeal issued by then-UNESCO Director General Vittorino Veronese.
From that action, and the success in saving the Egyptian treasures for all mankind, UNESCO set about to create an organization that would help identify, protect, and preserve the historical and cultural heritage considered to be of value to humanity around the globe.
To date, the 1972 convention, which led to the creation of the World Heritage List, now includes 878 sites in 145 countries. This list contains some of the most famous landmarks and locations in the world, including the Acropolis in Greece, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Machu Picchu in Peru, Petra in Jordan, and the Taj Mahal in India, among others. As the world’s most successful conservation tool, the World Heritage Convention has joined together the ideas of nature conservation and cultural preservation.
Part of what makes the World Heritage Conservation Program so important is that it is an ongoing tool to continue the preservation and conservation work begun in the 1960s. Each year a committee of 21 members, as well as 2 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) meet to evaluate new candidates for the World Heritage List.
To be included, a site must be of “outstanding universal value” and attain at least 1 of the 10 conditions listed below:
* human creative genius
* interchange of values (for example, architecture, technology, monumental art, planning, or landscape design)
* cultural traditions
* significant to human history
* traditional settlement (either land or sea use)
* events of universal significance
* natural beauty
* stages of Earth’s history (that is, geological processes)
* ecological or biological processes
* natural habitat for biodiversity
The committee’s choices are informed by the 2 NGOs who offer their expertise, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOSMOS). In addition to these two advisory groups, the International Centre or the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property provides advice and support to the committee on issues related to preserving and restoring sites chosen.
UNESCO World Heritage Conservation Program Mission
While the mission began with preserving some ancient Egyptian treasures, the World Heritage Conservation Program has extended that single mission to a global outreach of outstanding proportions. In addition, it has supplied strong support for many sites around the world that may have quickly fell into disrepair or worse. Sites in immediate danger often receive monetary support from UNESCO to ensure their protection.
With a goal of safeguarding the world’s cultural heritage and natural biodiversity, the ongoing work of the World Heritage Conservation Program is felt in a number of ways. This vibrant preservation body works together with its signatory countries to encourage the nomination of sites, to adopt management plans and reporting instruments on current World Heritage List sites, to provide technical assistance and training, and to encourage public awareness and support for its mission.
What’s clear is that the mission and actions of the UNESCO World Heritage Conservation Program have been instrumental in saving for humanity treasures of immeasurable value, both culturally and ecologically. These sites stand as a testament to the achievements of humans throughout history and the beauty of the natural world, which have been preserved for future generations.