Phnom Penh – The Syrian civil war is placing several World Heritage sites at risk, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned Monday, as it seeks additional funds to deal with a growing number of architectural and natural treasures.
The ancient cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Bosra have all been extensively damaged in a conflict that has killed more than 93,000 people so far, according to a report from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
As a result, the three cities and three other sites - the Crac des Chevaliers, Qal’at Salah El-Din and the site of Palmyra - have all been listed as being "in danger."
“We saw more trouble spots during the last years that have affected world heritage sites,” Mechtild Rossler, deputy director of the World Heritage Centre, told dpa.
In order to mobilize “all possible support" for the safeguard of these sites, UNESCO is considering the creation of a special fund to rescue Syria's World Heritages.
Apart from armed conflicts, urbanization, climate change and the growing demand for natural resources are threatening outstanding sites such as Solomon Island’s East Rennell.
Qatar saw its first sites inscribed on the list of World Heritages, but the Committee cautioned that Al Zubarah, a prosperous, fortified trading town, will face “immense” challenges to preserve the "highly fragile remains in a hostile climate."
UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites has now grown to 181, "but the funding for them is not increasing," said Sok An, the committee’s chairman and Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister.
Since 1990, the World Heritage Fund provides about 4 million dollars annually to support activities requested by states in need of international assistance. Compulsory and voluntary contributions from governments, as well as private donations, all contribute to this amount.
However, the organization has suffered from the United States's October 2011 decision to cut off its contributions - equivalent to 22 per cent of the budget - after UNESCO’s General Conference voted to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a full member state.
"(The shortage of funds) is a situation we have to deal with at a time when the traditional donors are short of finances, such as the countries in Europe that are going through the crisis, and the global recession,” Mechtild Rossler, deputy director of the World Heritage Centre, said, adding that the situation will become even more “critical” in the future.
“We need to work on very different paths, for example by making special funds available to collaborate with other organizations, establish broader partnerships and so on,” she said.
According to Sok An, the organization should reach out to the private sector and seek multilateral cooperations agreements in order to pay for the conservation of memorable sites.
“UNESCO has become an international platform for donors and we have the legal tools to protect world heritage sites,” Mechtild Rossler said.
Despite the problems, UNESCO can claim some successes. During the meeting in Cambodia, it agreed to remove Iran’s ancient city of Bam from its list of endangered sites after concluding that it had been sufficiently stabilized following the 2003 earthquake.