Monuments in Danger Climate Change Threatening World's Cultural Heritage

Rising seas, melting ice and spreading deserts are threatening cultural landmarks across the globe. Every two years the World Monuments Fund lists endangered sites and the forces that threaten them. Now they have included global warming for the first time.

New Orleans historic old town was flooded after Hurricane Katrina hit. Cultural heritage sites across the world are now threatened by the effects of climate change.

New Orleans historic old town was flooded after Hurricane Katrina hit. Cultural heritage sites across the world are now threatened by the effects of climate change.

The world's cultural heritage is threatened by global warming. That is the finding of a study by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) which monitors threats to cultural sites and monuments across the world.

The New-York based group released its latest list of the "100 Most Endangered Sites" on Wednesday -- and climate change was included for the first time as one of the top hazards to cultural landmarks. Sites from 59 countries were listed, with other identified threats including political conflict, pollution, development and tourism.

"On this list, man is indeed the real enemy," said Bonnie Burnham, president of the fund. "But just as we have caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it."

The sites on the list threatened by climate change include Herschel Island in Canada, where ancient Inuit dwellings and a historic whaling town could be washed away due to melting permafrost and rising sea levels. An ancient mosque in Chinguetti, Mauritania, is endangered by the rapidly encroaching desert, while in Antarctica the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott's hut could soon be destroyed as a result of vastly increased snow storms. And the historic French quarter in New Orleans, which has already been pummelled by Hurricane Katrina, now faces rising sea levels and the prospect of more hurricanes.

Political conflict poses yet another hazard. The war in Iraq is putting that country's entire cultural heritage at risk, the WMF says, and it is also worried about the future of the remains of the two giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem is deteriorating but is not being sufficiently protected due to ongoing political tensions, and the Famagusta Walled City in Cyprus, featured in Shakespeare's "Othello," has become neglected, a victim of the political deadlock on the island.

Development and tourism are also taking their toll: The Hill of Tara in Ireland, an ancient and sacred site, is threatened by a highway being built to ease commuter congestion to Dublin. And Machu Picchu in Peru could become a victim of its own popularity, due to unchecked tourism.

The WMF publishes its list every two years. It is designed to be an alarm call and has had some level of success. More than 75 percent of sites it had previously listed have been saved or are on their way to being preserved. Since 1996 the non-profit organization has spent more than €34 million ($47 million) on grants to rescue 214 cultural heritage site. But preventing climate change may be too big a task even for them.



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