EXPLAINED: How To Be Included In Unesco World Heritage List And What Leads To Removal

·4 min read

India got its 39th Unesco World Heritage site in the latest update to the list manitained by the UN agency with the Kakatiya era Ramappa Temple in Telangana making the cut as part of the 2019 honours. Again, a few days back, it was reported that the UK city of Liverpool was removed from the list. Here’s what you need to know about the qualifications for inclusion and the grounds for exclusion.

What Is The Unesco World Heritage List?

Think of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, or the Kaziranga National Park, home to the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. Add to it the pyramids of Egypt, and the Statue of Liberty in the US. What is common to these? Some are linked to nature while others are marvellous manmade structures. Well, these sites are all part of the Unesco World Heritage List and as such are regarded as belonging “to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located”.

There are a total of 1,129 sites around the world that have received the Unesco World Heritage tag, which is defined as “a designation attributed to places or properties, located around the world, of outstanding universal value”. The main idea behind naming a site on this list is to ensure their protection “so that future generations can still appreciate them in turn”.

The creation of the Wrold Heritage List was paved by the international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted by Unesco, short for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in 1972. The mission: “(T)o encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity”.

What Are The Criteria For Being A World Heritage Site?

Of the grand total of World Heritage sites, 877 are listed as part of cultural heritage while 213 are identified as natural sites. A further 39 are defined as ‘mixed’ sites, like the Khangchendzonga National Park in Sikkim), which is noted to include “a unique diversity of plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and spectacular, snow-capped mountains… including the world’s third highest peak, Mount Khangchendzonga (and)… a great number of natural elements that are the object of worship by the indigenous people of Sikkim”.

Unesco says that to be included in the World Heritage List, “sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria”. Among these are the question whether a site represents “a masterpiece of human creative genius”, or if it bears a “unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared”.

It is examined whether a candidate for the World Heritage tag contains “superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”, or if they include “the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity”.

The 190 signatories to the Unesco World Heritage Convention are required to draw up a ‘Tentative List’ of sites that may qualify for the tag and then make nominations from that list for inclusion in the list. The World Heritage Committee then determines which sites should be added to the list.

How Is It Beneficial?

Unesco says that the World Heritage ‘Mission‘ is to, among other things, “encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage”. To that extent, it offers help to signatories to safeguard World Heritage sites by providing technical assistance and professional training and also provides emergency assistance for such sites as may be in “immediate danger”.

It also seeks to get the local population to take part “in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage” and also brings “international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage”.

Reports say that after the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha structures in the country, Unesco extended “more than $4 million… to help with reconstruction and to hire a sculptor to re-carve some of the damaged” sculptures.

Why Is A Site Once Included Taken Off It?

Unesco names three sites as having been taken off the World Heritage List, the latest being the Merseyside riverfront that was included as the ‘Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City’. The World Heritage Committee, meeting for its 44th session in China’s Fuzhou, said that the site had suffered “irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property”.

Developments “both inside the site and in its buffer zone” were deemed to be “detrimental to the site’s authenticity and integrity”, Unesco said.

“Any deletion from the World Heritage List is a loss to the international community and to the internationally shared values and commitments under the World Heritage Convention,” it said.

The Elbe Valley in Germany’s Dresden and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman, too, have been removed from the World Heritage List.

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