There’s a lot of coverage in the media about threats to different ecosystems around the world—not to mention the planet-wide threat of global warming—but except on rare occasions, the threats facing irreplaceable cultural heritage sites tend to garner much less attention.
“Coral reefs, the Amazon, and polar bears are getting a lot more press than cultural heritage,” says Jeff Morgan, executive director of the California-based Global Heritage Fund (GHF), which works to protect and preserve cultural heritage in developing countries. Many such sites are under increasing risk, most often from human-caused factors such as overdevelopment or inauthentic reconstruction.
“Right now the threats are increasing every day,” Morgan warns, citing examples such as the ring of high-rise hotels recently completed around historic Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. A recent GHF report entitled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage estimates that more than 200 of the 500 global heritage sites currently in the organization’s database are under threat due to uncontrolled development, unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, looting, and war and conflict. GHF focuses on sites in developing countries, which typically lack the funding an technical expertise to protect endangered cultural heritage. Such sites have the potential to generate billions in tourist revenue, new jobs, and business and investment opportunities, yet their conservation requires sustained support from outside experts and the global community.
The good news is that travelers and other concerned individuals now have the opportunity to help save endangered sites by participating in GHF’s Global Heritage Network (GHN), an “early warning and threat monitoring system” that facilitates collaboration in the preservation of cultural heritage. Launched March 15, GHN is a new Internet platform that uses high-resolution satellite imagery, detailed mapping, and on-the-ground reporting to establish a reliable and steady stream of information about hundreds of significant archaeological and cultural heritage sites in the world’s poorest countries. GHN will enable scientists, local community leaders, travelers, and others to work together to protect sites.
“I’m hoping GHN will allow people to get together and stay in touch with a site,” says Morgan. “What happens when outside travelers come in and go, “Wow, that’s amazing’ is that local people start realizing the value of what’s in their backyard. Their whole thought process starts changing. That’s the most powerful thing that travelers can bring.”
Note: This article was originally published on ET News Editor Annika Hipple’s blog, Crossing Time Zones.
Read Ethical Traveler's Reprint Policy.