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Heritage Sites of the World are in Danger

Almost 100 years ago, the government of Canada created the Wood Buffalo National Park. The Park is a large, natural, protected area. There are large forests filled with northern trees. The ground is flat and rocky, and water collects in small streams, rivers and small, swampy lakes. This is the world’s largest inland freshwater delta - a wetland environment found at the mouth of two rivers.

The forests and wetland create a home for many special animals. The Park gets its name from one of these animals:the Wood Buffalo, or Wood Bison. Bison are very large, brown animals. They eat grass. In the past, many bison lived in North America. But today, bison are endangered. There are very few of them left. About 5,000 bison live in the park. The Park is also the only nesting place for whooping cranes, an endangered bird. This beautiful place protects a very special environment. But it also faces big challenges. Today’s Spotlight is on protecting special places like the Wood Buffalo National Park.

In 1983, the United Nations Educational, Scientific,and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, declared Wood Buffalo National Park an official World Heritage Site. You may have heard another Spotlight program on World Heritage Sites. Every year, the World Heritage Committee chooses natural and cultural places around the world that have global importance. They name these places as World Heritage Sites. When a place becomes a World Heritage Site,it can receive money from UNESCO to help protect it. World Heritage sites also gather more interest from the rest of the world. This can help countries get more money from visitors and interested organizations. All these things help protect the world’s special places.

But even when a place is an official World Heritage Site, it can still become at risk. Every year, the World Heritage Committee looks at World Heritage Sites that could be in danger. From these, they decide which places they will put on their official List of World Heritage in Danger. This is the case for the Wood Buffalo National Park. The government of Canada has approved a new dam project near the Wood Buffalo National Park. This dam could dry out the delta. This would hurt the many plants and animals there. Another danger to the park is from oil companies. They are taking oil from lands close to the park. Native Canadians and other groups are worried about these problems.

They have appealed to the World Heritage Committee to list the Wood Buffalo National Park as a World Heritage Site in Danger. They want to let people know about the situation. They hope that this international attention will force the government to protect the park. There are many reasons a World Heritage Site becomes endangered. For example, places can become endangered through natural ecological damage. Over time, wind and water can break down natural structures. One of these places is in Peru. At a site called Chan Chan, there are many detailed rock structures. These were carved almost 3,000 years ago. At that time Chan Chan was the capital city of an ancient civilization. These beautiful rock shapes are very important in world history.

But wind and the water are eroding the structures by breaking down the rock. UNESCO is working with the government of Peru. Together, they made a plan to save Chan Chan from erosion damage. Another risk to natural areas around the world is climate change. For example, rising temperatures affect the Sagarmatha National Park. The Park contains Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. It also contains beautiful ice glaciers that are now melting. This affects the beauty of the glaciers. But it also affects the local plants and animals. This includes rare animals like the snow leopard. Much of the risk to World Heritage Sites comes from human acts. Abu Mena is an ancient Christian city in Egypt. It is a historical site made of many old and fragile stone buildings. There are special carvings in the light brownstone.

Abu Mena was listed as a World Heritage Sitein 1979. Recent farming projects in the area caused underground water levels to rise. This makes the ground unstable. Some of the buildings of Abu Mena fell. The Egyptian government put sand at the base of some of the buildings. But the site is still in danger. War is another human act that threatens many World Heritage sites. Currently, six different sites in the countryof Syria are on UNESCO’s list. Syria has experienced a terrible war since2011. Many ancient places have been destroyed. Palmyra is an ancient city that is thousands of years old. Its people built many interesting buildings with tall, round columns. Today, many of these buildings have been damaged by bombs. Also, soldiers and others have robbed some of the sites in Palmyra. Palmyra and the other World Heritage Sites  are an important part of Syria’s history and culture. However, it is extremely difficult to protect special places in times of war.

When UNESCO adds a World Heritage Site to the list, it creates pressure to protect the site. Everyone learns about the problem. So governments are more likely to act. UNESCO also works with governments and organizations to solve problems. They may provide money or experts. Countries are proud of their World Heritage Sites. They do not want to lose these important places. However, in extreme cases, a site can lose its class as a World Heritage Site.

The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was the first place to be de-listed. The sanctuary was in the country of Oman. It was the home for the Arabian Oryx. This black and white animal is very beautiful and rare. But the government decided to reduce the size of the site by 90%. The Oryxes have almost disappeared. In 2007, the World Heritage Committee took away the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary’s class as a World Heritage Site. There are 1,007 World Heritage Sites in the world.

Currently, 46 are listed as in danger. Only two have ever lost their World Heritage place. Not every government likes the political pressure that can come from having a World Heritage Site. But the World Heritage Committee seems to be doing its job: working to protect the world’s special places. The writer of this program was Jen Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States.


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