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A critical review of the 44th Session of the World Heritage Committee by WHW Chair Stephan Doempke

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When the eastern half of the island of Rennell was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1998, the local community was in full support, hoping that their lives would change for the better through tourism and investments. They were wrong. Both the international community and their own government have turned their back on them, and it has come to the point that they suffer food shortages. Now they are warning that they will start logging their forest – one of the most pristine in all the small Pacific Islands – and give up on the World Heritage status which hasn’t brought them any benefit in more than 20 years.
The islanders need fishing gear and seedlings of fruit trees in order to provide for their own food. When all UNESCO member states don’t care to help East Rennell, we will not stand idly by.

Please make your generous donation, earmarked “East Rennell” here.

Rennell is the southernmost island of the Solomon Islands in the western Pacific. It is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. A major feature of the island is Lake Tegano, which was the lagune of the atoll before the island rose up from the ocean due to geological activity. Rennell is still covered with dense tropical forest averaging 20m in height and providing habitat for a multitude of rare and endemic birds and plants. Its population of 1,800 is an ethnic Polynesian minority in the mostly Melanesian Solomon Islands.

The local communities of East Rennell have been congratulated for their commitment to protect the World Heritage site. However, bauxite mining is now widespread in the western part of the island, which has led to an invasion of rats who devastate fields and crops. Logging has been approved within 200 m of the World Heritage boundary leading to a loss of groundwater. At the same time, Lake Tegano is threatened by sea level rise and increased salinity, and as a result, it has become impossible for the community to grow taro, their staple food which is also of great cultural importance.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the body advising UNESCO – has stated in its recent report:

“The real long-term threat to the … site is the lack of alternative income generating alternatives to commercial logging and mining … Additional support for sustainable livelihoods should urgently be provided to communities to ensure protection and management of the site.”

We are in close contact with Jorge Tauika, the leader of the local community’s Lake Tegano World Heritage Site Association, a registered charity which will be the recipient of our support. Jorge has been invited by UNESCO before and enjoys high trust and respect of both the local and international community.

With your support, he can go to the capital, Honiara, in order to buy the fishing equipment and seedlings so urgently needed to keep his people healthy and the World Heritage safe.
Please make your generous donation, earmarked “East Rennell” above.
Thank you for your support!
Sincerely,
Stephan Doempke
Chairman and CEO, World Heritage Watch

The Hagia Sophia is widely considered to be one of the most important buildings in the history of architecture as well as the history of religions, and indeed of world history at large. It was the last monumental building of antiquity and the biggest building of the world at its time.
> read complete Statement

PRESS RELEASE

on the occasion of World Environment Day

EMBARGOED UNTIL FRIDAY, 5 June 11:00 a.m. CEST

Lockdown is a Much-Needed Opportunity to Rethink World Heritage Tourism

World Heritage Watch Report 2020 alerts to tourism as an increasing threat to the world heritage

Tourism is becoming an increasing factor of threat to UNESCO's World Heritage, and promoting tourism, not protecting the site, is often the motivation for seeking inscription in the World Heritage List. The German NGO World Heritage Watch, which coordinates a network of about 170 civil society groups around the globe, is calling to use the global collapse of tourism caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the role of tourism in world heritage sites.

Visiting the sites is expressly encouraged, but there is a risk that World Heritage status will morph  from an instrument of protection to a factor of threat. This is indicated by the World Heritage Watch Report 2020 which has been released today. In a full third of all cases included in the report, tourism development is the direct or indirect reason that the site could end up on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in Danger List.

World Heritage Watch calls on UNESCO to adopt strict and binding criteria for sustainable tourism at World Heritage Sites, and to make them a condition for new inscriptions on the World Heritage List. Education, encounters with the local population, and the experience of heritage as something held in common must not be given up. Local communities must be empowered to perform with dignity their role as guardians of the sites and to convey the intangible heritage associated with them.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic, World Heritage sites were particularly affected by the excesses of overtourism because they are preferred tourist destinations due to their importance and attractiveness. Tourist numbers skyrocketed as soon as a site was inscribed in the World Heritage List, and the large numbers of visitors quickly collided with the particularly strong protection requirements of the World Heritage sites.

The phenomenon no more affects only well-known places such as Venice, Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal, but also remote ones such as Lake Ohrid in Northern Macedonia, Hampi in India, or the Kamtchatka peninsula of Eastern Siberia.

Berlin, 3 June 2020

PRESS RELEASE

on the occasion of World Environment Day

EMBARGOED UNTIL FRIDAY, 5 JUNE 11:00 a.m. CEST

World Heritage Watch Report 2020 alerts to tourism and mining as increasing threats to the world heritage

Mining remains a major threat to UNESCO's World Heritage sites but is increasingly joined by tourism, according to a new report issued by World Heritage Watch, a global network of more than 170 NGOs, indigenous peoples and civil society activists who monitor sites on the ground.

While some sites in Siberia such as the Forests of Komi and the Altai Mountains have been of concern for years, new plans for uranium mining have been reported near the Grand Canyon and in southern Greenland, and a Venezuelan activist group has uncovered devastating gold mining in Canaima National Park, one of the world's gems for biodiversity and harbouring Angel Falls, the worlds highest. Although UNESCO has a No-Go-Policy in place for mining in World Heritage sites, this is often ignored or evaded by its member states following their perceived national interest.

Meanwhile, tourism has grown to an extent that it is becoming an increasing factor of threat to UNESCO's World Heritage, and often promoting tourism, not protecting the site, is now the motivation for seeking inscription in the World Heritage List. While visiting the sites is expressly encouraged, there is a risk that World Heritage status will morph from an instrument of protection to a factor of threat.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic, World Heritage sites were particularly affected by the excesses of overtourism because they are preferred tourist destinations due to their importance and attractiveness. Tourist numbers skyrocketed as soon as sites were inscribed in the World Heritage List, and the large numbers of visitors quickly collided with the particularly strong protection requirements of the World Heritage sites. The phenomenon no more affects only well-known places such as Venice and Machu Picchu but also remote ones such as Lake Ohrid in Northern Macedonia and Hampi in India. The advocacy network now calls for using the worldwide standstill in tourism to rethink this development, and requests UNESCO to adopt strict guidelines for tourism planning before new sites are inscribed in its prestigious list.

World Heritage Watch provides information to UNESCO unreported by its member states in order to help the agency having a more comprehensive assessment of the real situation at the sites under its tutelage, and take more appropriate decisions to eliminate threats. Since its founding in 2014 it has earned a reputation with UNESCO to be the global voice of civil society in World Heritage matters.

Berlin, 4 June 2020

18.04.2019

Today on International World Heritage Day we want to express our gratitude to the fire fighters of Notre Dame who risked their lives in order to save a priceless heritage for all of us. At the same time we would remind that there are hundreds and thousands of people around the world who give everything they have to protect and safeguard World Heritage sites at their places and who very seldom receive a word of gratitude or other support. We want to thank them all - the activists who protest against neglect and deliberate destruction, the rangers at national parks who shield wildlife from poachers with their own bodies, the private owners whose pride it is to give an example of heritage protection, and the uncounted citizens who volunteer to maintain places and whose small donations mean more of a sacrifice to them than big amounts to many others.

As civil war is intensifying in Libya, more World Heritage sites may get lost forever. Please support the brave men and women in the neighbourhood of Libyan World Heritage sites who guard those sites from being pillaged and destroyed by invading militias. They risk their lives as much as the fire fighters of Notre Dame, and they deserve to be recognized as much.

Please donate through www.world-heritage-watch.org or in the US through our fiscal sponsor www.globalheritagefund.org, earmark "Libya".

We are happy to introduce Rod Prosser, our representative for the Australia-Pacific Region. He will support us in promoting World Heritage Watch, extending the network, and fundraising. Over time we hope to find more committed individuals who will assume that responsibility in other parts of the world as well.

Rod is a New Zealand film-maker who has been making political documentaries since the 1970s. His New Zealand themes have included Maori sovereignty, environmental education, workers rights and the anti-nuclear movement. While living in Berlin in the 1990s, he made a number of documentaries for German television including films about the interdependent struggles for the environment, indigenous cultures and revolution in the Philippines, the history and culture of Rapanui/Easter Island, and American militarism in the Pacific. For most of his life, Rod has also been involved in solidarity work with peoples of the Third World (especially the Philippines) and has worked with NGOs in NZ and in Germany to support indigenous peoples, biosphere reserves and environmental activism.

Contact Rod Prosser through orodi@protonmail.com