Vilnius hosts record-breaking UNESCO conference

  • 2006-07-12
  • Staff and wire reports
VILNIUS - A record number of participants convened in the Lithuania capital this week for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee's 30th session, scheduled to determine the status of some three dozen sacrosanct sites across the world.

"We already know that more than 600 participants have applied for the event - more than any other session before," chairwoman of the World Heritage Committee, Ina Marciulionyte of Lithuania, told a news conference on July 7.
The July 8 's 16 session will address 27 cultural, eight natural, two mixed and three objects located in the territories of several countries.

Marciulionyte said committee experts have recommended including 14 places on the World Heritage List. "The committee may decide to include about a half or two-thirds of the proposed objects, but we have much difficult work to do before that," she added.

During the first of the four-day session on July 10, the committee removed four sites from the List of World Heritage in Danger 's the Cologne Cathedral (Germany), Djoudj Bird Sanctuary (Senegal), Ichkeul National Park (Tunisia) and Hampi (India).
All four sites were removed due to improvements in their preservation.
The committee also adopted recommendations on methods of response to current climate changes, which threaten several World Heritage sites, such as Mount Everest (Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal), Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Venice (Italy).

"This is the start of a long process, which is important in that it helps draw attention to a far reaching issue," a press release from Lithuania's Foreign Ministry cited Marciulionyte as saying.
The World Heritage Committee endorsed the recommendations formulated by 50 international climate change experts who met at UNESCO Headquarters in March. According to the press release, the most natural ecosystems and heritage sites, both on land and in the sea, are at risk of being affected by climate change. They include glaciers, coral reefs, mangroves, boreal and tropical forests, polar and alpine ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands.

Due to severe changes in air pressure and extreme weather, cultural sites are also in danger, and rising sea levels threaten coastal geography. Meanwhile, desertification is putting other areas into jeopardy, such as the three Great Mosques of Timbuktu (Mali). Rainfall and temperature changes can cause structural collapse, and population movements due to climate change may lead to the abandonment of some sites while placing others under stress.

Furthermore, the committee requested the World Heritage Center to prepare a policy document on the impact of climate change on World Heritage objects in consultation with experts, environmentalists, international organizations and civil society. The document will be presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2007.
On a local note, Marciulionyte said that participants would tour Lithuania's world heritage sites, namely Vilnius' Old Town, the country's historic capital of Kernave and the Curonian Spit.

In her words, a special publication on world heritage objects in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia has been brought to Vilnius from Spain on the occasion of the session. The book will be published in English, French and Spanish and distributed around the world.

The World Heritage Committee was established in 1972 in keeping with the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The committee includes 21 countries that have signed the document. In an effort to ensure protection of heritage around the world, including lesser developed countries, a nation without a world heritage object is elected by the committee in every election.

The list of world heritage sites now consists of 812 values, including 628 values of cultural heritage, 16 natural heritage values and 24 mixed values.