June 11, 2007 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites was recently announced by Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), the nonprofit organization that, for more than 40 years, has helped save hundreds of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world. This year’s list highlights three critical man-made threats: political conflict, unchecked urban and industrial development, and, for the first time, global climate change.
Announced every two years, the WMF Watch List acts as a call to action, drawing international public attention to threatened cultural heritage sites across the globe. The Watch List is assembled by an international panel of experts in archaeology, architecture, art history, and preservation. For many historic sites, inclusion on the List is the best, and sometimes the only, hope for survival.
The 2008 Watch List clearly shows that human activity has become the greatest threat of all to the world’s cultural heritage, causing irreparable harm to many of the important places in the world that provide unique access to shared human history. Pollution eats away at ancient stones. The rapid rise in global tourism is bringing more and more people to fragile and often unprotected places. Cities and suburbs are spreading unchecked, at the expense of historic landscapes and buildings.
Political discord and armed conflict are not only wreaking havoc on sites directly—with modern weapons more destructive than ever—but are destroying communities, leaving the world’s cultural heritage open to neglect, vandalism, and looting. And,
perhaps most daunting of all, the destructive effects of global climate change are already clearly apparent. The 2008 Watch List includes several sites that are threatened right now by flooding, encroaching desert, and changing weather patterns. Sadly, future lists will bring many more.
“The World Monuments Watch List is our best indicator of the pressures that face the field of heritage preservation,” said World Monuments Fund President Bonnie Burnham. “On this list, man is indeed the real enemy. But, just as we caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it, by taking our responsibility as caretakers of the world’s cultural heritage seriously. So today we are sounding the alarm, using the World Monuments Watch List
to demonstrate, through the vivid examples of beloved places around the world, the importance of working together to meet these challenges and join forces to protect our world’s shared architectural heritage.”
Global Climate Change
The 2008 Watch List includes a number of sites threatened by global warming.
Among them are:
- Herschel Island, Canada, home to ancient Inuit sites and a historic whaling town at the edge of the Yukon that are being lost to the rising sea and melting permafrost in this fastest-warming part of the world.
- Scott’s Hut, Antarctica, a time-capsule of early twentieth-century exploration.
(Ironically, it is being engulfed by vastly increased snowfall thought to be a result of changes in the weather, changes the station was built to monitor.)
- Chinguetti Mosque, Mauritania, located in one of Islam’s seven holy cities and one of many sites in West Africa endangered by the encroaching desert.
- Sonargaon-Panam City, Bangladesh, a former medieval trading hub and crossroads of culture, whose long-neglected and deteriorating architecture is increasingly threatened by flooding in this low-lying country, one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.
- Leh Old Town, Ladakh, India, a rare intact medieval city in the Himalayan region, now trying to balance development and modernization with sustainability as its traditional architecture faces changing weather patterns, including heavy rains, that it was not built to withstand.
- New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, whose historic neighborhoods, already pummeled by Hurricane Katrina, are now struggling to restore homes while also preparing for future challenges posed by rising sea levels and the likelihood of stronger storms.
- Whether past, ongoing, or imminent, conflict has become one of the most severe threats to cultural heritage. Among the sites at grave risk on the 2008 Watch List are:
- Cultural Heritage Sites of Iraq, where ongoing conflict has led to catastrophic loss at the world’s oldest and most important cultural sites, and where the damage continues.
- Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan, tragic illustrations of the importance of cultural heritage and the consequences of its destruction, the leftover fragments and historic context remain endangered, and their future in question.
- Church of the Holy Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories, the site of one of Christianity’s oldest churches, now deteriorating as a result of modern political tensions.
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