IN VENICE, UNESCO CELEBRATES 30 YEARSParis - Between 1978, when Ecuador's Galapagos Islands became the first UNESCO World Heritage site, and this year, when the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan became the latest, the World Heritage List swelled to include a total of 730 sites of "exceptional universal value" spread across the world's five continents.
They include such famous places as the ancient city of Machu Picchu (Peru), the Auschwitz concentration camp (Poland), the Great Wall of China, the Medina of Essaouira (Morocco) and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which gave rise to the List, is 30 years old this year. It was adopted in Paris on November 16, 1972 and came into force in December 1975, when the minimum requirement of 20 countries had ratified it. Today, with 175 States-Parties, it is UNESCO's most widely-backed legal instrument. To mark this anniversary, UNESCO will hold an international congress ("Shared Legacy, Common Responsibility") in Venice from November 14 to 16, with the support of the Italian government and the city council.
The Congress will bring together more than 500 experts at the Cini Foundation, on the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore, to analyse the successes and problems over 30 years of applying the Convention; to work out ways of making the Convention and UNESCO's efforts to protect World Heritage better known; and to strengthen future partnerships for World Heritage Conservation.
"The World Heritage Convention is a noble, vital force in the world, fostering peaceful coexistence and honouring our past in equal measure with our future," says UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
The coveted "world heritage" label is much more than a prestige tag. It makes any site more popular, but also puts it under international protection and facilitates efforts by the country where it is located to raise international funding for its conservation.
The World Heritage Fund thus earmarks almost $4 million a year to help States- Parties prepare the candidature of potential sites, to send technical and expert missions to sites and to provide emergency help for those hit by disaster.
Venice and its lagoon, which has been a World Heritage site since 1987, provides the ideal setting to assess the evolution of the Convention, whose importance is highlighted in the
preamble which affirms that "the deterioration or disappearance of any item of cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world."
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