Earth Day is right around the corner, which makes the fact we’re losing more wonders every year — both natural and man-made — particularly devastating.
Earlier this month, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported that over half of all World Heritage Sites are now threatened by human development. This means that almost 230 locations are at risk, and that’s largely due to the fact that people all over the world prioritize development for immediate gain over sustainable practices that would protect humans and entire ecosystems from destruction in the long run.
If you’ve never marveled at Egyptian ruins or snorkeled near the Great Barrier Reef, you might want to book a few flights before it’s too late.
Here are some incredible World Heritage Sites that could be wiped from the face of the Earth if we don’t change our ways.
1. Barrier Reef Reserve System, Belize
2. The Land of Olives and Vines, Battir, Palestine
3. Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves, Niger
4. Niokolo-Koba National Park, Senegal
What researchers stress in their findings is that long-term prioritization of conservation in regard to World Heritage Sites is not just good for the planet. Saving these sites is critical if we want to stabilize and maintain economies around the world. According to WWF’s report, “World Heritage Sites provide important economic, social, and environmental benefits to people.”
UNESCO has determined that these locations carry something called “outstanding value to humanity.” They give out these qualifications to attract attention from conservationists.
5. Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, Côte d’Ivoire
6. The Ruins of Abu Mena, Egypt
7. Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan
“Sustainable development goals are a great expression of what countries should see as a way forward,” Roberto Troya, WWF director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said. He also pointed out that industrial capital is unfortunately more valuable to developers than natural capital, but arguments in favor of the former often fall flat.
Here’s why. WWF states that approximately 11 million people worldwide rely on the maintenance of these sites. In buffer zones around World Heritage Sites, these landmarks, natural formations, and ancient monuments drive local economies. “Harmful industrial activities, which degrade the environment, compromise the ability of World Heritage Sites to provide benefits to these people,” a representative writes.
8. Simien National Park, Ethiopia
9. The Ruins of Hatra, Iraq
10. Medieval Monuments of Kosovo, Serbia
11. Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, Peru
12. Everglades National Park, United States
Researchers acknowledge that certain areas have taken substantial measures to preserve World Heritage Sites. In their words, such an approach “recognizes that the environment is a long-term provider of economic inputs.” In fact, all territories in the United Nations have committed to reaching 17 sustainable goals by 2030 per the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
13. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
14. Old Walled City of Shibam, Yemen
15. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
16. East Rennell, Rennell Island, Solomon Islands
17. Canaima National Park, Venezuela
18. Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia
This chart, generated by WWF, lays out how many people around the world rely on both natural and man-made World Heritage Sites. The numbers speak for themselves.
(via The Huffington Post)
There’s a reason why UNESCO singles out locations like lush rainforests and archaeological zones. They’re valuable. They’re valuable in the sense that they are the world’s most beautiful works of art. They’re valuable because they serve as time capsules that keep mankind’s oldest secrets. By shifting our perspective on economic, environmental, and social progress, we can ensure that these World Heritage Sites stay out of harm’s way.
If you want to read the rest of WWF’s report, you can do so here.