UNESCO, the United Nations–operated agency, released a report this week that indicated some of the world’s most iconic historic locations could soon be designated as “endangered” on the organization’s World Heritage in Danger list. Stonehenge in England, the Italian city of Venice, and the ancient capital Ashur in Iraq are among those cited in the report.
The UNESCO report was issued ahead of UNESCO’s 45th annual conference in 2022, where final decisions around the recommendations will be made.
Among the most fiercely debated cases addressed in the report is Stonehenge because of an ongoing plan to build a tunnel underneath the prehistoric site for infrastructure purposes. The organization recommended that the Neolithic site in Wiltshire location be added to the endangered list if the U.K. government’s controversial plan is not adjusted.
The warning comes days before a judicial review of the planned tunnel is scheduled to take place in a London court beginning on June 23. The hearing will address issues surrounding the government’s £1.7 billion ($2.25 billion) road redevelopment plan in the surrounding area, which would require the construction of a 2 mile-long tunnel under the site. The plan was approved by the U.K.’s transportation secretary Grant Shapps last November.
The UNESCO report also said that an adjustment to the proposed length of the new tunnel “is required in order to avoid highly adverse and irreversible impact on [the site’s Outstanding Universal Value], particularly on the integrity of the property.” (OUV refers to a Unesco standardized metric for assesing a site’s cultural significance and thus, its World Heritage list eligibility.) The World Heritage committee has requested the U.K. government provide a modified plan for the route upgrade scheme by February 2022, ahead of next year’s annual conference in June.
Proponents of the project to move the main road leading to Stonehenge underground argue that the tunnel could solve issues around traffic congestion and noise that have long plagued the surrounding area, as well as boost the local economy. Yet, some archaeologists have objected to the project, claiming it could potentially damage a vast portion of the site’s ancient artifacts that remain unearthed and yet to be recorded by historians.
Another site in the U.K. mentioned in the UNESCO report is Liverpool’s waterfront, which the organization said should to be removed from its list of World Heritage sites because of the ongoing development in the area that was first announced in 2012.
The city of Venice is another area under dire threat, according to UNESCO. One of the most pressing issue there is ongoing damage to the lagoon’s ecosystem and surrounding infrastructure, which have been made vulnerable from the effects of climate change. The negative impact is now being exacerbated by the presence of commercial cruise ships. The report added that “complex impacts of mass tourism, the constant decrease of population and the basic deficiencies in governance and cooperated management which have led to a significant loss of historical authenticity within Venice,” are causes for concern.
In March, the Italian government issued a request to ban large commercial vessels from the city’s lagoon. The country’s culture minister Dario Franceschini, a vocal critic of cruise ship tourism in Venice, said on Twitter, “The risk of seeing Venice inscribed on the Heritage in Danger list requires us to take a further step, immediately prohibiting large ships from the Giudecca Canal.”
Beyond the U.K. and Europe, the report also noted that several dam projects scheduled to take place across Iraq, Turkey, and Iran could further increase water scarcity. The report called on governments in each region to “expedite their cooperation towards long-term sustainable water management measures that are informed by science and can guarantee the minimum (water) flow needed to preserve the [Outstanding Universal Value of the property].”
Iraq’s ancient city of Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat), where there are several dam projects planned, is one site that UNESCO will specifically bring up for discussion at the 2022 conference. The site has been on the World Heritage in Danger list since 2003. The report cited renewed plans around the construction of the Makhool dam project in the northern Salahudin province, which pose a threat of flooding to the site, leading the agency to call for its relocation or cancellation. Iraq has pressed forward with the project citing concerns over severe water supply shortage in the region. The organization requests a full assessment of the damage to the sites and its artifacts, stating it “reiterates its concern over the continued high vulnerability of the three cultural component sites and the need for their conservation to prevent further irreversible erosion and collapse.”