Paris, France | AFP
Almost half of all natural World Heritage Sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and Machu Picchu, are threatened by industrial activities such as mining, oil exploration and illegal logging, conservation group WWF warned Wednesday.
The 114 threatened sites, virtually half the total listed by UNESCO, provide food, water, shelter and medicine to over 11 million people — more than the population of Portugal, according to a WWF-commissioned report.
The sites are meant to be protected for future generations.
“Despite the obvious benefits of these natural areas, we still haven’t managed to decouple economic development from environmental degradation,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini said in a foreword.
“Instead, too often, we grant concessions for exploration of oil, gas or minerals, and plan large-scale industrial projects without considering social and environmental risks.”
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) lists 197 “natural” and 32 “mixed” Heritage Sites in 96 countries around the world, alongside 802 cultural sites.
The 229 natural and mixed sites, nominated by governments of the countries in which they are found, include national parks and nature reserves, forests, coral reefs, islands and coastal areas.
But among the 114 sites highlighted by the WWF, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s biggest coral reef ecosystem, is threatened by both mining and shipping.
In the US, the Grand Canyon Natural Park is threatened by dams or unsustainable water use.
And the 15th-century Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru, named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, is threatened by logging, the WWF said.
The report said oil or gas concessions had been granted in 40 of the sites and mining concessions in 42.