It was back in 1959, when the history’s largest archaeological rescue operation materialized…the governments of the United Arab Republic (now Egypt and Syria) and Sudan had asked UNESCO to help them salvage the historical sites and monuments of Egyptian Nubia, which were to be submerged under the reservoir created by the Aswan High Dam. UNESCO had then appealed to the international community for assistance to protect the temples in the region. It was further followed with construction of a temporary dam to preserve the site and excavate the cliff around two temples. Artificial hills were also created around the site to serve the purpose of a barrier against the river. The project had a cost of 36 million dollars, and required the work of over 800 laborers to preserve the site.
A few years later in 1972, the ‘World Heritage Convention,’ an international treaty was adopted by UNESCO for the preservation of cultural and natural heritage. 187 countries, recognized as ‘State Parties’ have ratified the convention, abiding to protect not only the World Heritage Sites in their region but also to ensure that they take no measures which could damage the ones belonging to other countries. It has been recognized that there is a fundamental need to maintain a balance between people and nature, and one way is to preserve some of the magnificent locations. UNESCO selects these sites by giving them an Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), if they sustain an exceptional cultural and/or natural significance for both the current and future generations of this world.
There are certain guidelines met by the World Heritage sites which are as follows:
- They should either be a genius human creation or should portray an interchange of human values present during a time period or within a cultural area.
- They must sustain an exceptional testimony to a ‘cultural traditions of present civilization,’ or the one that has diminished. It could be an architectural or technological ensemble that elaborates a crucial stage in human evolution.
- They could be associated with present traditions, using ideas, beliefs, or artistic and literary works which hold international significance.
- There are chances that some sites exhibit sterling natural phenomena or natural beauty or aesthetic importance like nowhere else.
- Some of these sites depict the history of the planet, which is significant to the present geological, geomorphic or physiographic features. For example, they could be habitats of endangered animal and plant species.
The convention had come into effect in year 1975, and in the same year twelve sites were recognized as World Heritage Sites. A few of them are: Yellowstone National Park in the United States, Aachen Cathedral in Germany, L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada, and Wieliczka & Bochnia Royal Salt Mines in Poland. The list has expanded quickly with time, and as of 21st century, over 1,000 global properties are preserved and conserved by UNESCO, under the World Heritage Convention pact, with Italy having the most inscribed properties, that is, 54. Even though consistent efforts are being made for conservation of these sites, the increasing environmental problems, urbanization, and natural disasters still pose a massive threat.
Here is a table mentioning the number of world heritage sites in countries around the globe:
|United States of America||23|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||5|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||3|
|Central African Republic||2|
|Antigua and Barbuda||1|
|Federated States of Micronesia||1|
|Papua New Guinea||1|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||1|
|United Arab Emirates||1|