Thursday, April 19, 2012

Archaeologists Blast Hasty World Heritage Listings

One of the most significant global committees that you never heard of summoned a couple of hundred experts to the island of Menorca, Spain last week. The meeting involved politics, the remnants of great civilizations, human catastrophes, architectural triumphs, religious works of art and architecture, use of tourism, the rise and fall of empires, and did we say politics?

The International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management, or ICAHM, hosted its first conference on how to manage the world’s myriad archaeological World Heritage sites. This wildly varied array of places encompasses many of the most celebrated sites of human cultural accomplishment and catastrophe—everything from the pyramids and Roman fortifications to Mongol-era tombs and prehistoric rock art. ICAHM’s key job is to advise the World Heritage Committee about new sites proposed for the famous list. I attended as a guest of the Congress, which paid for my travel.

Right at the outset, ICAHM co-president Dr. Willem J.H. Willems of Leiden, Netherlands, put the core issue on the table. “Archaeology is the study of the past,” he said in his April 9 keynote, but “the past doesn’t exist anymore. Heritage is about the use of the past in the present.” And that’s where it gets interesting. And risky.

Too many countries are rushing to use the past—their heritage sites—for present purposes. Willems sharply criticized the way that sites are proposed and awarded World Heritage inscription. According to the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty, sites should be awarded a place on the list based on solid scientific and academic reasoning. Not happening, said Willems. The World Heritage Committee has been approving too many applications based on economic and “radically political” expediency.

For most countries, World Heritage status is a hotly desired prize. A background note may be necessary for some of the American audience here, where a myth prevails that a World Heritage listing means giving up sovereignty to UNESCO. In fact, World Heritage inscription simply means your country gets the sites that it requests “inscribed” on the World Heritage list. The conditions are that the sites are of “outstanding universal value” and that you take good care of them. If you don’t, the worst UNESCO can do is propose removal from the list.

Most countries, especially impoverished developing nations, are eager to put their greatest natural and cultural places on the list. Why? Prestige in part, national pride in part, yes, but also that modern vein of gold: tourism! An inscription puts you on the travel map.

Read more, here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Culture Under Fire by Irina Bokova

Culture lies on the front line of conflicts across the world. Timbuktu has fallen into the hands of Tuareg rebel forces and shots have been fired around the city’s grand mosque, a Unesco World Heritage Site. This follows on the heels of the shelling of the city of Apamea in Syria. The citadel of Madiq and the ancient villages in the north of Syria, all of which are Unesco World Heritage Sites, could become collateral damage. They need our protection.

It may seem incongruous to denounce crimes against culture and call for their protection at a time of political instability and humanitarian crisis, but it isn’t.

Protecting culture is a security issue. There can be no lasting peace without respect. Attacks against cultural heritage are attacks against the very identity of communities. They mark a symbolic and real step up in the escalation of a conflict, leading to devastation that can be irreparable and whose impact lasts long after the dust has settled.

Attacks on the past make reconciliation much harder in the future. They can hold societies back from turning the page toward peace.

Read the rest of the article, here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

International scholars learn conservation and tourism practices at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

International scholars learn conservation and tourism practices at Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkPosted on 5:25 pm, Monday, April 9, 2012.

Jovel AnanayoHawaii National Park, HI – Two scholars from World Heritage Sites in China and the Philippines are studying how Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, also a World Heritage Site, operates. Once they return to their countries, they will share how the National Park Service successfully integrates conservation and tourism.Jovel Ananayo, 35, is a National Park Service World Heritage Fellow from the Philippines, and a tourism post-graduate student at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He works as the tourism specialist for the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo), a nongovernmental organization embarking on the conservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. The rice terraces are more than 2,000 years old and represent “an absolute blending of humankind and the environment,” according to UNESCO. But they face many challenges, from introduced invasive pests, tourism pressure on natural and cultural resources, diminishing indigenous knowledge systems, very limited financial resources, and more.“What amazes me here is how all the divisions and experts work together. You have experts on cultural and natural resource management and the eruption crew all providing information to the interpretation team who very effectively share their knowledge with visitors. That’s how it should be,” Ananayo said. “In Ifugao, efforts are much more fragmented, but we hope to improve on our collaboration and on how we integrate cultural and natural heritage in our tourism activities drawing from the model of the Hawai‘i Volcanoes,” he said.

Li LijuanLi Lijuan, 27, works for Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve in China’s Yunnan Province, part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a World Heritage Site. Lijuan took a leave of absence to participate in the East West Center’s Asia Pacific Leadership Program, where she studied political, global and regional emerging issues, trends, and leadership last semester. This semester, she’s serving as an intern at Hawai‘i Volcanoes to better understand how the U.S. national park system operates. Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve emphasizes preservation and restoration, and is probing how to balance protecting natural resources, provide access, and sustainable utilization.“The United States has a very good national park system, and you excel at balance. Here people can appreciate nature,” she said.This year, Hawai‘i Volcanoes celebrates its 25th anniversary of becoming a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, recognized internationally for its outstanding universal value. The park is one of only 21 World Heritage sites in the United States, and 936 worldwide. Today, visitors, students and volunteers from around the world come to experience its natural and cultural wonders, found nowhere else on earth.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

National Geographic: World Heritage Sites

To see National Geographic's website on World Heritage, click here.

Overlooked Heritage
A world heritage site award from Unesco is seen as a boon for tourism and those looking to raise the status of a city, but there can be unforeseen consequences when it comes to development.