World Heritage in Honduras, Indonesia Placed on Danger List

PARIS, France, June 22, 2011 ENS – The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras and the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra in Indonesia today were added to the United Nations’ List of World Heritage in Danger.

At its annual session in Paris, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee added these areas to the Danger List following the advice of International Union for Conservation of Nature, the independent advisory body on nature to UNESCO.

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve (Photo courtesy UNESCO)

One of Central America’s few remaining tropical rainforests and the largest protected area in Honduras, the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, was inscribed on the Danger List at the request of the government of Honduras.

Lack of law enforcement has led to illegal settlement by squatters, illegal commercial fishing, illegal logging, poaching and a proposed dam construction on the Patuca River, all of which threaten the reserve’s forests, mangroves, coastal lagoons and savannahs.

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, home to an indigenous population that has preserved its traditional way of life in the rainforest, was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1982. It was first inscribed on the Danger List between 1996 and 2007.

Now, the site needs more protection “notably due to the deterioration of law and to the presence of drug traffickers” the World Heritage Committee said, explaining today’s Danger Listing.

Mariam Kenza Ali, IUCN World Heritage Conservation Officer, said, “We fully support Honduras’ positive move to request Rio Platano to be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger and signal the need for increased international support to protect the natural wealth of this site, where over 2,000 indigenous people continue their traditional way of living, directly dependant on natural resources.”

The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2004 for its wealth of biodiversity, was today placed on the Danger List to help overcome threats posed by poaching, illegal logging, agricultural encroachment, and plans to build roads through the site.

IUCN has consistently recommended the site to be included on the Danger list since 2004. Four joint UNESCO-IUCN monitoring missions in the last five years have led to the conclusion that the site needs an emergency restoration plan.

Visitors get a close look at an orangutan and her baby in Gunung Leuser park in Aceh, Sumatra, part of Indonesia’s Tropical Rainforest Heritage. (Photo by der Willy)

“Including the exceptional Sumatran rainforests on the Danger list today signals a message of international concern to support this site,” said Peter Shadie, IUCN’s senior adviser on World Heritage.

“The Committee has taken this important decision after several years of debate, and we now need to ensure that it leads to real action on the ground to tackle long standing threats,” said Shadie.

The Virgin Komi Forests, Russia’s first natural site added to the World Heritage List, was not added to the Danger List, despite IUCN’s recommendation.

The approval of a gold mine inside the site and national level boundary changes, which led to the loss of legal protection for these areas, are both clear criteria for a site to be declared “in danger,” according to IUCN.

“World Heritage Sites have been recognized as no-go areas for mining, both by IUCN, UNESCO and business leaders,” says Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “We consider inclusion on the Danger List was fully warranted, and we consider urgent remedial action is needed for the Virgin Komi Forests to resolve the critical threat to its Outstanding Universal Value.”

The Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, the world’s most renowned icon of the Inca civilization, was also not added to the Danger List, despite threats such as lack of adequate governance, future construction of a road, impacts of the growth of numbers of visitors and lack of preventive measures against natural disasters.

“This is a missed opportunity to send a message of international support for Machu Picchu,” Badman warned. “We should remember that the Danger List is not a black mark for countries, but a way of drawing attention and providing support to the sites that need it the most.”

On the positive side, improvements in the conservation status of India’s Manas Wildlife Sanctuary allowed for its withdrawal today from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Situated on the foothills of the Himalayas, the Manas sanctuary is inhabited by many endangered species, such as tigers, pygmy hogs, Indian rhinos and Indian elephants.

The site was inscribed on the Danger List in 1992, seven years after it had entered UNESCO’s World Heritage List due to 50 million Indian rupees (US$1.6 million) in damages sustained during ethnic unrest by Bodo tribal militants starting in 1989.

India has applied nearly every year since 1992 for removal of the sanctuary from the Danger List, but the World Heritage Committee decided that dangers still existed.

In 1998, the committee wrote, “While security conditions in and around Manas have improved, the threat of insurgency still prevails in the State of Assam and militants often traversed the Sanctuary. Nevertheless, the Committee was informed that the Indian authorities were of the view that conditions for site protection and the relationship with local villagers were gradually improving.”

Ten years later, the committee urged India to conduct a baseline survey on recovery of wildlife populations and set up a full monitoring system which will allow monitoring and documenting the recovery of the flagship species.

India was also asked to resolve funding problems; complete the work for the reconstruction and improvement of the park infrastructure; fill vacant staff positions in the park; and strengthen and consolidate park management operations, in particular the efforts for reducing illegal logging and wildlife poaching in Panbari Range.

Finally, India was urged to continue with efforts for reintroduction of the one-horned rhino and assess the feasibility of a restoration program for swamp deer.

Last year, India submitted its wildlife recovery reports too late for evaluation. But this year, the World Heritage Committee decided that the sanctuary was recovering and that India had demonstrated a clear enough upward trend in the populations of key wildlife species to remove the site from the Danger List.

The World Heritage Committee opened its annual meeting on Monday and will continue meeting through June 29.

In the coming days, the World Heritage Committee will examine the state of conservation of 169 World Heritage properties, including 34 on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The committee will also examine 10 natural sites proposed for inscription:

  • Ningaloo Coast – Australia
  • Pendjari National Park – Benin, an extension of W National Park of Niger
  • Wudalianchi National Park – China
  • Ancient Beech Forests of Germany – Germany, an extension of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians, Slovakia and Ukraine
  • Western Ghats – India
  • Harra Protected Area – Iran
  • Ogasawara Islands – Japan
  • Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley – Kenya
  • Trinational Sangha – Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic
  • and the nomination under new criteria of the World Heritage property of Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park Vietnam

Three properties are proposed for both natural and cultural criteria as “mixed natural and cultural” sites. They are: Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park in Jamaica; Wadi Rum in Jordan; and Saloum Delta in Senegal.

Copyright Environment News Service,ENS, 2011. All rights reserved.