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Good news, bad news on UNESCO's world heritage


The good news: The Great Barrier Reef is no longer one of the most endangered World Heritage sites. The bad news: a number of World Heritage sites in the Middle East have been damaged or destroyed either by ISIS or general war damage. And the worst news: UNESCO appears to many to be impotent to even influence preservation of many sites.

That's the general picture on reading recent reports including two that appeared recently in two British papers, the Guardian and the Telegraph in the wake of UNESCO's meeting last week to update its list. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The Great Barrier Reef came off the endangered list because Australia has agreed to spend about $1.53 billion (US) over the next decade to protect the reef, and has already agreed to ban dredge spoil in the area and to limit development.

At the same time sites added to the endangered list includeed Hatra in Iraq and a number of sites in Yemen. This past spring, Hatra got widespread publicity as ISIS forces destroyed statues and used hammers and rifles to damage other parts.

And that points up the main aspect of the Guardian's story: Limited in funds, and having no real authority, UNESCO can only work by praising or shaming governments and others to protect the sites that have been nominated and given the designation; often the nominations come from governments that may later be the force behind destruction.

One example given by the Guardian is the designation of the Palace of Westminster and Houses of Parliament in London; a year ago UNESCO warned that the site was being compromised by heavy development around it and across the Thames from it. According to the Guardian, "warnings had precious little effect and the decision was dropped after intense lobbying from the UK ambassador to UNESCO."

There are now 1007 sites in 161 countries; only two were ever dropped: Dresden, Germany for spoiling its view with a new bridge, and an antelope sanctuary in Oman, dropped after 90% of its land was taken away. But even so, there are questions about the quality of what remains at many sites. the Great Wall of China, for example has many sections missing, and the ones open to visitors are mainly reconstructions that some call "Disneyfied."

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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I enjoy traveling to UNESCO sites because most of them are very interesting destinations.  I even know of some travelers whose goal it is to see "every" UNESCO listing.  Good luck to them!


I really think UNESCO is doing it's job by identifying important places and encouraging their conservation.  I shudder at the thought of a global UNESCO police swooping in to "defend" these sites.  It's up to the countries that govern them to do so.  Some do a great job; others don't.  Some citizens care, others could care less.


Most countries are happy to have increased numbers of UNESCO listings because it brings in more tourist revenues.  That alone is a powerful motivator for conservation and preservation.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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