So Is Being A World Heritage Site A Big Deal?

Yes, and we have some of those
BY: JUDY SWALLOWS

Everybody has heard the term “Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. There are cities, monuments, historical places and even food all around the world that has bragging rights to this status.

Nowadays there are 1007 Heritage sites in the world. Such sites as Deutsche Welle, the Temple of Kukulkan in Mexico, The Great Wall of China, the Victoria Falls in Zambia, and the old town of Quedlinburg in Germany are all nice places, but what  gives them heritage site of humanity status?

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO meets in Bonn every summer to choose which cities and landscapes should be newly elected and what other sites and landscapes should earn protected status.

Here’s how it goes down:

First, each country nominates places they feel are worthy of being elected. In Germany, this is done by the states, and this year three sites were proposed, including the Warehouses City of Hamburg and the Naumburg Cathedral, Saxony-Anhalt.

In addition, there are 34 more proposals for the World Heritage list worldwide. For example, the Mexican Aqueduct of Father Tembleque, and the Forth Bridge in Scotland.

In 2015, Singapore and Jamaica first nominated sites to UNESCO: Singapore, with its Botanical Garden and Jamaica, with the Blue and John Crow Mountains.

After the proposals are submitted, an independent guild examines them. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS, by its acronym in English) reviews all application folders containing maps and relevant data, and gives recommendations based on that information. Also, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) checks natural landscapes.

But the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO can ignore these recommendations. During last year’s conference in Doha, the committee’s decisions were criticized as being influenced by   politics. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Maria Böhmer, wants to fight that image, “A World Heritage Site has to be exceptional and of universal value for all mankind and not just for one country,” she said. The beauty, the importance, and uniqueness of the site are the most influential criteria.

The application process takes at least 18 months and is very complex. As a result, in the cultural heritage of humanity Europeans, Americans and Asians are better represented than others because not everywhere has the staff with the necessary expertise. The result is that 48 percent of all sites declared Cultural Heritage are in Europe or in North America. In contrast, only nine percent are in Africa. “The committee wants to mitigate this imbalance helping African countries, for example in the development of the application,” says Katja Römer, spokesman for the German UNESCO Commission.

The final decision on admission is made by experts from 21 countries at the annual conference. There they examine if the proposed sites correspond to at least one out of ten criteria. And these criteria are very different, so that the list of Cultural Heritage Sites is as varied as the world itself. 

Mexico is about to get another seven natural protected areas in the north and northwest regions of the country, which will bring the number of such areas to 184, the commission responsible said this week.

These new spots are the Marismas Nacionales biosphere and Monte Mojino, both in Sinaloa, the Sierra de Tamaulipas biosphere reserve, the Playa Boca de Apiza in Colima, the Islas del Pacífico here in Baja, the Semiarid Desert reserve of Zacatecas, and Sierras la Giganta y Guadalupe in Baja California Sur.

Alejandro del Mazo Maza, head of the National Protected Areas Commission, told a press conference that the publication of the official decree would take place within days.

Earlier this month, the commission announced the creation of four new management plans for areas already designated as protected as it attempts to address a backlog. Just 97 of the 177 protected areas have such a plan in place, making it almost useless to earn the designation.

Meanwhile, the UNESCO World Heritage designation is a little more certain of being taken seriously.

Mexico has the largest number of World Heritage Sites of any country in the Americas and the sixth most in the world. We have 27 cultural sites, five natural sites, and one mixed site, making for a total of 33. But we bet you could have added that up for yourself, couldn’t you? Well, try this number on for size: Mexico has a dozen more sites than the United States does.

The Baja sites are two in Mulege, one for cave painting, one for the whale sanctuary at El Vizcaino, and one for the islands in the Sea of Cortez. There are 23 more sites in Mexico pending approval, there are none in Baja in the works.