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What are World Heritage site


The United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) administers the World Heritage List under the World Heritage Convention, through which signing member countries pledge to protect their natural and cultural heritage. To date, 186 countries have signed the Convention.  According to the UNESCO website, World Heritage sites are of “outstanding universal value” and, as such, “belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located." There are 10 criteria for selection. Proposed sites must represent exceptional examples of human creativity or achievement, living or past cultural traditions or civilizations, natural history or beauty, or human interaction with the environment. Sites must meet at least one of the criteria to be included on the list.

As of July 2018, there are a total of 1,092 World Heritage Sites located in 167 States Parties (countries that have adhered to the World Heritage Convention), of which 845 are cultural, 209 are natural and 38 are mixed properties. The countries have been divided by the World Heritage Committee into five geographic zones: Africa, the Arab States, Asia, and the Pacific, Europe and North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Some of the more famous sites include the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Iguazu (or Iguaçu) Falls National Park in Argentina and Brazil, the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Wall of China, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel in France, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

UNESCO currently lists 58 sites as “World Heritage in danger.” These are sites whose continued existence or well-being is at risk due to development projects, land-use change, abandonment, armed conflict, natural disasters, or other threats. World Heritage sites in danger include the walled city of Baku in Azerbaijan, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, the Old City of Jerusalem, the rice terraces of the Philippines, the medieval monuments of Kosovo in Serbia, and the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone in Peru.

Only countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention are eligible to nominate sites for inclusion on the list. Once nominated, sites undergo independent evaluation by two advisory organizations, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). A third advisory organization, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), also provides the World Heritage Committee with expert advice. The Committee meets once a year to decide which sites will be included and which require further information before a decision can be made.

In addition to the prestige of a World Heritage listing, the World Heritage Convention also allows member countries access to the World Heritage Fund, which provides about four million dollars annually to assist in “identifying, preserving and promoting World Heritage sites.” In addition, UNESCO has emergency assistance available for urgent preservation efforts, such as repairs to sites after natural or human-induced disasters. A World Heritage listing also means that site administrators will have access to expert training and advice, as well as assistance with the development of a comprehensive management plan to preserve the site. Finally, the inclusion of a site on the list usually leads to a rise in tourism and increased revenues for the country in which it is located. 

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