A new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report claims that one half of the world’s natural UNESCO World Heritage sites are threatened by “harmful industrial activity”, and are considered under “high threat” or “very high threat” of development.
Destructive activities such as poaching, illegal logging, mining, overfishing and oil and gas exploration are threatening 114 out of 229 natural UNESCO World Heritage sites.
UNESCO World Heritage is designated though a rigorous selection process to determine a site’s “Universal Value for Mankind”.
The new report shows that many UNESCO World Heritage sites, despite their value for water, tourism and environmental conservation, are suffering from massive removal of wood for charcoal and logging, oil, gas and mineral extraction, as well as palm oil plantations and construction of large-scale roads and dams.
Sub-Saharan African UNESCO sites are suffering the most, according to the report. Of the 42 sites the region holds, 30 are threatened.
Aside from their environmental value, natural UNESCO World Heritage sites provide social and economic benefits. Two-thirds of natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List are crucial water sources, and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
(c) Paul Hilton – The Destruction of Leuser, Sumatran World Heritage
Over 90 percent of listed natural sites provide income through tourism and recreation. But benefits decrease when the landscape is altered or resources are over-exploited.
More than 11 million people depend on UNESCO World Heritage sites for water, food, and medicine, the report urged governments to hold industries “to the highest standards of corporate accountability and stewardship,” and create clear buffer zones around the sites. It also called on industries and financiers to make public commitments to refrain from encroaching on UNESCO World Heritage sites, and adhere to sustainable practices.