WWF report calls for more action to improve situation
Nearly half of all UNESCO Natural World Heritage sites are currently under threat from human activities like oil and gas drilling, mining, overfishing, illegal logging or large-scale construction of infrastructure like ports, highways and dams. This is the conclusion drawn in Protecting People Through Nature, a report by the Dalberg Global Development Advisors, as commissioned by WWF.
Various economic activities worldwide were investigated for the report, in relation to the 229 Natural World Heritage sites. Almost half – specifically 114 of them – were acutely at risk from on-going mining activities and oil and gas drilling, or had concessions for such industrial activities awarded upon them.
In particular, the situation is dire in Sub-Saharan Africa (with 71 percent of the area under threat), East Asia and the Pacific (55 percent) and South Asia (58 percent). In Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 54 percent of the sites are under threat.
Conservationists are renewing calls on governments to protect these sites. Companies should refrain from any action that may jeopardise the protected areas, while banks and other financial institutions should not approve loans to companies handling such harmful developmental projects.
“Unbridled exploitation does not stop at beautiful natural paradises. Politicians and the public need to increase pressure not to accept any loopholes in their protection and to put industry in its place. These unique natural areas are for all mankind, and are just as important as our cultural heritage,” asserted WWF Germany ’s Günter Mitlacher in German.
Even in Germany, Natural World Heritage sites are not safe. A case in point is the Wadden Sea, where oil exploration is taking place in the midst of the national parks, giving rise to a possibility of an oil spill in the pristine natural environment. What’s more, commercial companies are applying for permits to do even more oil drilling there (see our article on this matter taucher.net/diveinside-wadden_sea_national_park_under_threat_from_russian_oil_drilling_company). However, oil isn't the only threat here. There are also the consequences brought about by shipping, industrialisation and fishing, with the largest threat being the rising sea levels due to climate change.
Natural World Heritage sites are of universal importance for humanity. Consider such places like the Galapagos Islands, the Grand Canyon, the Belize Barrier Reef, the Great Barrier Reef, or the Selous Reserve in Tanzania. They provide drinking water and jobs to the people, and promote tourism, recreation and the sustainable use of resources in their respective communities. Eleven million people are dependent on such places for their homes or livelihoods. The sites are also home to many endangered species. Simply put, the Natural World Heritage sites are simply so rich in diversity and importance, despite making up – in all – just half of one percent of the Earth's surface.
Link to the report Protecting People Through Nature (PDF file).