What is a World Heritage Site?

A World Heritage Site is a place of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, has been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for present and future generations to appreciate and enjoy. World Heritage Sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. A site considered to possess outstanding universal value must meet one of the ten selection criteria of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention. Today, the World Heritage concept is so well understood that sites on the List are a magnet for international cooperation and may thus receive financial assistance for heritage conservation projects from a variety of sources.

What is the World Heritage List?

As of July 2021, the World Heritage List includes 1154 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 897 cultural, 218 natural and 39 mixed properties in 167 States Parties. 194 States Parties had ratified the World Heritage Convention.

What is the List of World Heritage in Danger?

The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.

What is the World Heritage Convention?

The World Heritage Convention is an international agreement that was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. It has been ratified by 194 countries and is considered the most important international legal instrument for the identification, preservation and presentation of both natural and cultural sites of outstanding universal value. The convention is based on the premise that certain places on Earth are of outstanding universal value and should therefore form part of the common heritage of mankind.

How does the World Heritage Convention work?

The World Heritage Committee is the body in charge of the implementation of the Convention. It has developed precise criteria for the inscription of properties on the World Heritage List and for the provision of international assistance. The Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention have been revised by the Committee to reflect new concepts, knowledge or experiences.

What is the Global Strategy?

The Global Strategy aims for a balanced, representative and credible World Heritage List. Its objective is to ensure that the List reflects the world’s natural and cultural diversity of outstanding universal value. The Global Strategy has broadened the definition of World Heritage to better reflect the full spectrum of natural and cultural treasures and to provide a comprehensive framework and operational methodology for implementing the World Heritage Convention.

What is UNESCO’s role?

UNESCO’s mandate is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world. UNESCO seeks to achieve these ideals through the effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

What does the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention do?

The General Assembly of States Parties to the Convention meets during the sessions of the General Conference of UNESCO. During its session, the General Assembly determines the uniform percentage of contributions to the World Heritage Fund applicable to all States Parties, and elects new members to the World Heritage Committee to replace the outgoing members.

What is the World Heritage Committee?

The World Heritage Committee meets once a year and consists of representatives from 21 of the States Parties to the Convention elected by their General Assembly for terms up to six years.
The Committee is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties. It has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List. The Committee can also defer its decision and request further information on properties from the States Parties. It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks States Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

What is the World Heritage Centre?

Established in 1992, the World Heritage Centre is the focal point and coordinator within UNESCO for all matters related to World Heritage. Ensuring the day-to-day management of the World Heritage Convention, the Centre organizes the annual sessions of the World Heritage Committee and its Bureau; provides advice to States Parties in the preparation of site nominations; organizes international assistance from the World Heritage Fund upon request; and coordinates both the reporting on the condition of sites and the emergency action undertaken when a site is threatened. Furthermore, the Centre organizes technical seminars and workshops, updates the World Heritage List and database, develops teaching materials to raise awareness among young people of the need for heritage preservation, and keeps the public informed of World Heritage issues.

Where does the AWHF fit in?

While 54 African countries have signed the World Heritage Convention as of July 2021, 12 of them have no sites on the World Heritage List. The challenge for Africa is to increase the resources available to inscribe more sites.  A total of 13 African countries have sites which appear on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The AWHF is a strategy for dealing with the challenges faced by many African countries regarding the implementation of the 1972 Convention. The AWHF has been established to foster a better understanding of African heritage cultural significances and values. To fulfill this mandate resources are mobilized to contribute towards the promotion and safeguarding of African World Heritage Sites and the education of people on the importance of African natural and cultural heritage.

Why are African World Heritage Sites a priority for the UNESCO-WHC?

Even though Africa has significant natural and cultural heritage sites few appear on the World Heritage List. As of July 2021, out of the 1154 sites on the World heritage list only 139 are from Africa (98 of which are from Sub-Saharan Africa). African sites however, predominate on the List of World Heritage in Danger and the initiatives in the Strategic Plan and Action Plan of the AWHF are aimed at helping to gradually improve the conservation and preservation of Africa’s endangered sites .

How will the AWHF help in conservation?

Africa has the highest number of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Given the number and some of the problems in managing sites, it is important to develop best practices which will ensure that after intervention, sound conservation and management systems remain in place. AWHF provides support to heritage training institutions in Africa to build the capacity to manage and conserve the World Heritage Sites on the continent.

How will the AWHF contribute towards sustainable development?

AWHF joins forces with national authorities and provides support to tentative and existing World Heritage sites in Africa. Hereby it contributes to the implementation of the World Heritage Committee’s and the African Union (AU) strategic objectives, using World Heritage Sites as tools for poverty alleviation and income generation. As the AWHF identifies, protects, promotes and builds the requisite capacity to properly manage Africa’s natural and cultural heritage, it places African countries on the path towards sustainable growth and development.

How does inscription of a site to the World Heritage List contribute to tourism?

The inscription of a site on the World Heritage List brings an increase in public awareness of the site and of its outstanding value. This leads to an increase in the tourist activity at the site. When such activity is well planned and organized respecting sustainable tourism principles, it creates access to important funds for the site and the local economy. Tourism offers unparalleled opportunities for the economic development of local communities living in or near heritage sites.

How can the local community benefit from heritage?

The World Heritage Convention encourages the States Parties to involve local communities in planning and managing the heritage sites. Successful protection of heritage depends on the ability to provide opportunities and benefits to the local communities. Properly managed tourism development that involves local communities can help to stem the out-migration of youth and other marginally-employed members of the community, provide new employment opportunities, revitalize traditional building and craft industries, enhance both the physical and intangible heritage while encouraging pride and promoting enterprise and contributing towards alleviating poverty.

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