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Africa's heritage sites under threat

Africa has more than 40 percent of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Published on 12 June 2011

Author(s): CNN/Catriona Davies

Type:  News Originally published on 6 Dec 2010

Many African countries have recently started to realize the importance of World Heritage sites

Many of Africa's natural and cultural sites are under threat from uncontrolled development, poaching and civil unrest, UNESCO has warned.

While less than 10 percent of all sites on the World Heritage List are in Africa, the continent has more than 40 percent of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger, according to Lazare Eloundou, chief of the World Heritage Center's Africa unit.

UNESCO, the United Nations body in charge of preserving heritage, has now made Africa a priority and is now giving extra support to the continent's governments in helping mitigate the threats
 

"We have to be concerned about the current situation, but there are opportunities to change things," said Eloundou.

"One of the major problems is that the issue of protection and conservation of heritage sometimes conflicts with the need for infrastructure and resources exploitation.

"We need a fair balance, and it seems that this is going to be one of the major conservation issues in the coming years."

The World Heritage List has 911 sites globally, listed for their unique natural and cultural value. Of these, 34 are on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

In Africa, there are 78 World Heritage sites, of which 14 are on the danger list.

UNESCO is currently carrying out a two-year review of the state of conservation of all its African sites, due to be completed in July 2011, with recommendations for improving the state of the sites.

Eloundou said: "This periodic reporting will be a good opportunity to address some of these conservation issues in the future. The report will come up with some recommendations and actions to be implemented in the period 2011-2017."

He added: "Many African countries have recently started to realize the importance of World Heritage sites, as their good management and protection contribute to development.

"When a site is on the List of World Heritage in Danger, it's the responsibility of the international community as a whole to join hands in order to save the site's outstanding universal value which is threatened.

"UNESCO has developed activities and programs to address the problems. Sometimes, this is raising awareness of the importance of the site, sometimes it is working with other U.N. bodies to help reduce encroachment of refugees or militia groups on to the site, and sometimes it is training local professionals."

The most threatened natural sites in Africa include: Five sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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