62.96 percent of UNESCO-designated heritage sites ‘in danger’ are found in countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a gross disproportion to the OIC’s 18.83 percent share of world heritage sites.
34 of 54 heritage sites in danger are in OIC countries and most are found in areas exposed to conflict or unrest, either currently or recently.
UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, designates a site is in danger if it meets at least one of the 12 criteria for cultural sites or one of the 8 criteria for natural properties. These include serious deterioration for either cultural or natural sites, or significant loss of historical authenticity for cultural properties, and human encroachment on boundaries or in upstream areas which threaten the integrity of a natural site.
Danger sites in OIC countries include two in Afghanistan, three in Iraq, five in Libya, six in Syria and three in Yemen.
Both of Afghanistan’s heritage sites are danger listed: the Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam in 2002 and the Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley in 2003.
All of Libya’s heritage sites were danger listed in 2016, as were all six of Syria’s sites, in 2013. The Site of Palmyra, which dates from the 1st to the 2nd century, is one of Syria’s sites in danger from ongoing conflict.
Two of Yemen’s heritage sites were danger listed in 2015 and the third, the Historic Town of Zabid, has been on the list since 2000.
In older conflict areas, three of Iraq’s five heritage sites are danger listed.
Of the OIC sites in danger, the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls has been on the list the longest, since 1982. It was followed in 1992 by Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve that straddles both Ivory Coast and Guinea.
The most recent addition to the list is Hebron/Al Khalil Old Town in Palestine that was designated as being in danger this year.
UNESCO plays an important role in facilitating the safeguarding and restoration of danger sites but it has been facing a financing crisis since 2011 when the United States stopped its annual payments to the World Heritage Fund (WFH) in response to the organisation voting to admit Palestine as a full member state. The U.S. followed Israel’s lead on this matter. Israel stopped its contributions in March 2011 and the U.S. in October of the same year, UNESCO records show.
UNESCO selected France’s former culture minister Audrey Azoulay as its new chief on October 13 this year, throwing her into an organisation described in 2012 by former director general Irina Bokova as being in its “worst ever financial situation” after the U.S. froze its funding. Bokova was reported as saying that U.S. funding made up 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget.
UNESCO is the United Nations organisation tasked to designate, conserve and protect archaeological and heritage sites. It currently has 1,073 properties on its world heritage list, according to its website. 202 are found in OIC countries.
Apart from the compulsory contributions to the WFH from member countries, UNESCO also depends on profits derived from sales of World Heritage publications and funds-in-trust that are donated by countries for specific purposes, it says on its website.
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