Daily Current Affairs – 21st October, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
“Why monuments would be worse off without the World Heritage status”
UNESCO defines a WHS as a place or environment of “great significance” or meaning to mankind. It may be a living urban city or a rural settlement, a natural landscape (an underground cave, for instance), a forest or a water body, an archaeological site (where excavations have revealed relics of the past) or a geological phenomenon.
Thus, it could be a natural site, a cultural site (which would be a traditional man-made settlement representative of a culture or cultures resulting from human interaction with the environment), or a site that’s a mix of both.
The largest number of World Heritage sites are in Italy (49) and China (45).
Note: Nations can submit no more than one nomination per year and competition is keen. To evaluate each year’s crop of nominations, UNESCO relies upon expert evaluations by the International Commission on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
Concerns over the impact of tourism on World Heritage sites
The increased tourist flow also has a flip-side. The Taj Mahal, the country’s most popular monument which became a World Heritage site in 1983, attracts one in every four foreign tourists visiting India.
Taj Mahal is recently ranked as the fifth most popular landmark based on travellers’ reviews and ratings. The list was topped by Machu Picchu in Peru.
Abrasions and the deposit of body oils are causing damage to the structure. Pollution has also been a worry for conservationists.
The effect of bringing people to a location unequipped to deal with the consequences of tourism seriously undermines the World Heritage program’s altruistic beginnings and goals.
However, the government is yet to take a call on limiting tourist flows based on a report submitted by the National Envrionmental Engineering Research Institute which looks at the impact of different levels of tourist footfalls.
Concerns with funding
World Heritage tag does not necessarily mean more money for these sites.
Between 1983 and 2008, India received less than a million dollars from the World Heritage Centre (WHC) in financial assistance. Since 2008, India has not sought any funds.
For 2016-2017, the World Heritage Fund has $5.9 million at its disposal. However, it falls far short of covering the whole cost of implementing the Convention.
In other words, money is far too little to protect the world’s heritage and priority is given to the endangered sites.
In addition to the World Heritage Fund, assistance may be called forth from ―international and national governmental and non-governmental organizations and private bodies and individuals.
For instance, the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, which are also World Heritage sites, have received international financial assistance. The Japanese Bank of International Co-operation (JBIC) extended loans worth Rs 350 crore to the Indian government for conservation works and creating infrastructure for tourists at the caves between 1993 and 2013. But such instances of financial support are rare for Indian World Heritage sites.
Commentators have criticized that there are instances of bureaucratic wrangling, underhanded deals for money and influence between the Funding Committee and the Member States. They have begun to question whether UNESCO‘s position in international preservation has diminished significantly from the ―gold standard.
Also global funds may not be worth the effort required to get them, given the laborious, multi-step clearance from the government.
Therefore, effective funding and radical changes is needed if the UNESCO’s WHC is to remain an effective conservation tool.
However, it is quite evident that sites with World Heritage Tag get preference from the government over their peers without the honour.
For instance, the ASI spent Rs 1.4 crore on Elephanta in 2015-16, nearly twice as much as it spent on the Kanheri Caves in Mumbai, a collection of over a hundred caves dating back to the 3rd century BC. The Kanheri Caves are not on the World Heritage list.