UN Raises Alarm Over World Heritage Sites In Yemen And Lebanon

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The United Nations’ cultural arm UNESCO has added sites in war-torn Yemen and deeply troubled Lebanon to its list of World Heritage Sites in danger.

In a meeting on January 25, the World Heritage Committee added the landmarks of the ancient Kingdom of Saba, Marib in Yemen to the danger list. The area covers seven archaeological sites that date from the 1st millennium BCE to the arrival of Islam around 630 CE and, according to UNESCO, “bear witness to the rich Kingdom of Saba and its architectural, aesthetic and technological achievements”.

Among other elements, the area includes the remains of large urban settlements with monumental temples, ramparts and other buildings. Due to the complex irrigation system developed at the site, it formed the largest ancient man-made oasis.

The Saba kingdom controlled much of the incense route across the Arabian Peninsula and played an important role in the cultural exchange the accompanied trade with the Mediterranean and East Africa. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee said the site was under threat of destruction from Yemen’s ongoing conflict.

Being on the World Heritage in Danger list means the sites can gain access to enhanced technical and financial assistance.

Futuristic buildings in danger

The World Heritage Committee also added the Rachid Karameh International Fair of Tripoli to the danger list. The site is in Lebanon’s second city in the north of the country and was designed in 1962 by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer – most famous for the futuristic buildings he created for Brazil’s capital Brasilia.

The Rachid Karameh International Fair covers a 70-hectare site. Its main building is a covered hall in the shape of a boomerang, measuring 750 metres by 70 metres. It was a key part of Lebanon’s modernization policy in the 1960s.

UNESCO said the site was being added to the danger list as it was now in a sorry state, with a lack of financial resources for its maintenance and a risk of development proposals that could affect the integrity of the complex.

Sites at risk around the world

There are now 55 properties on the List of World Heritage in danger. Almost half of them are in countries across the Middle East and nearby areas which have suffered from long periods of instability in recent years. They include the Roman site of Leptis Magna in Libya, the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria and the Old City of Yemen’s capital Sanaa. Also on the danger list is the minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and the old towns of Djenné in central Mali.

New entrants on the way

In more positive developments, several countries are now moving towards gaining their first nominations on the World Heritage list, including several in Africa. UNESCO said it is working with Djibouti to evaluate the potential of four sites proposed by that country’s government. It has carried out similar work in South Sudan, which has drawn up a tentative list of three sites which could be put forward for inclusion, and with Burundi.

The newest site to be added to the list is the historic center of the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, on the Black Sea, which the World Heritage Committee accepted during its meeting on January 25.

The first list of World Heritage Sites was drawn up in 1978, with a dozen sites included. There are now close to 1,200 sites. Inclusion on the list is often a major draw for tourists and sites also become eligible for funding and other resources.

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