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World's Historic Treasures in Danger Worldwide

The non-profit World Monument Fund has released its biennial Watch List of the world's 100 most endangered architectural and cultural treasures. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports this year's sites can be found across the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Every two years, the New York-based World Monument Fund issues its Watch List to call attention to cultural heritage sites that are at risk. The 2008 Watch List includes sites as diverse as the Blue Mosque in Cairo, Egypt, rock art in Somaliland and Libya and historic neighborhoods of New Orleans. The U.S. city flooded in 2005.

As always, many of the sites on the list are historic sites that have been affected by conflict. This year all cultural heritage sites in Iraq made the list. Surprisingly, so did the Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taleban in Afghanistan. The Fund's president, Bonnie Burnham, says the remaining fragments need preservation.

"The Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed, weren't they, five or six years ago? But, in fact, an interesting conservation issue has arisen out of this terrible fact, which is that as people today begin to think about visiting Afghanistan, and people have started visiting Afghanistan as tourists, Bamiyan is the very first thing that they want to see," she said. "Indeed, Bamyian has become a destination."

Burnham says economic and development pressures continue to present the primary challenge to historic and cultural sites. She says the new List's biggest advocacy challenge is Tara Hill in Ireland, a sacred landscape that is threatened by plans to build a highway through it. Old Damascus, Syria, and the skyline of Saint Petersburg, Russia are also listed as sites threatened by modern construction.

The 2008 Watch List adds a new theme, the effects of climate change.

"Not the most charismatic example, but perhaps the most dramatic one, is this island in the Yukon called Herschel Island which, has a millennium of cultural history beginning with the Inuit people, ending with a major whaling industry installation," she noted. "The nominators of this site have concluded, after having moved the buildings back on several occasions, that it is no longer possible to save Herschel Island."

This year more than 10 percent of the listed sites are found in sub-Saharan Africa. They include coral structures in Tanzania, 18th century fortifications in Burkina Faso, an ancient religious center in Zimbabwe and a royal palace in Ghana constructed in the disappearing Sudanese earthen architecture style.

"This is a fabulous, traditional African site in Ghana, one of the last examples of this Sudanese architecture built in mud brick," she explained.

The World Monument Fund works with local communities across the globe to identify important sites and help raise funds to save them. Since beginning the Watch List in 1996, the group has made more than 500 grants of more than $47 million to 214 sites in 74 nations.