July 23, 2010

Sites Vie For UNESCO Heritage Honor

Thirty-two natural wonders and cultural treasures are competing to join the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) top world heritage list when it meets in Brazil next week.

The sites are nominated to join 890 already on the cultural body's list of the world's top spots, with three new candidates, including the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, in the Pacific.

The Marshall Islands include the Bikini Atoll, which were evacuated when the United States carried out nuclear weapons tests in 1946.

Islanders in the region were affected by fallout from the testing and the grounds of Bikini were corrupted by the ensuing radiation, causing illness among residents and leading to US compensation in the 1990s.

More than 50 years after the nuclear testing occurred, the coral archipelago has become a cherished and popular destination for divers who explore shipwrecks off its shores.

Being placed on the UNESCO world heritage list is a valuable asset for countries since it boosts tourism. Places like Bikini have been hit hard by the recent economic crisis, and the listing would help bring it back into the black.

Another hopeful in the race for the world honors is Tajikistan, whose spectacular snow-capped Pamir mountain range is among six sites vying for the recognition giving by UNESCO.

China is also seeking recognition for its southeastern Danxia mountains, a beauty spot which it says offers "outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation and natural beauty."

Other sites, including a Britain region where the former house of Charles Darwin is located, a former penal site in Australia, a slave depot in Mombasa, Kenya and the historic bazaars of Tabriz, Iran are all in the running for world heritage honors.

Amsterdam is also looking for recognition for its picturesque canals, and Spain and Portugal for their prehistoric dinosaur sites.

Sites can be pulled from the list, however, if later urban development threatens heritage value. This happened with the German city of Dresden last year after a traffic bridge was built near the old center.

The Serengeti animal reserve in Tanzania is up for possible removal from heritage status, due to a planned motorway in the region for 2012.

UNESCO judges world heritage sites based on a 1972 convention on cultural conservation. The World Heritage Committee meets in Brasilia from July 25 to August 3 to assess the entries.

The meeting will also be used for the committee to review conservation of 31 sites on its endangered heritage list. It "may decide to add to that list new properties whose preservation requires special attention," UNESCO said in a statement.

The endangered list features sites "threatened by a variety of problems such as pollution, urban development, poorly managed mass tourism, wars, and natural disasters."

Image Courtesy Stefan Lin/Wikipedia


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