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Africa's heritage sites under threat

By Catriona Davies, for CNN
  • Fourteen of Africa's 78 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are on the danger list
  • Threats include poaching, civil unrest and uncontrolled development
  • A report will make recommendations for improving the sites

(CNN) -- Many of Africa's natural and cultural sites are under threat from uncontrolled development, poaching and civil unrest, UNESCO has warned.

While less than 10 percent of all sites on the World Heritage List are in Africa, the continent has more than 40 percent of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger, according to Lazare Eloundou, chief of the World Heritage Center's Africa unit.

UNESCO, the United Nations body in charge of preserving heritage, has now made Africa a priority and is now giving extra support to the continent's governments in helping mitigate the threats.

"We have to be concerned about the current situation, but there are opportunities to change things," said Eloundou.

"One of the major problems is that the issue of protection and conservation of heritage sometimes conflicts with the need for infrastructure and resources exploitation.

We have to be concerned about the current situation, but there are opportunities to change things.
--Lazare Eloundou, chief of Africa unit, UNESCO

"We need a fair balance, and it seems that this is going to be one of the major conservation issues in the coming years."

The World Heritage List has 911 sites globally, listed for their unique natural and cultural value. Of these, 34 are on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

In Africa, there are 78 World Heritage sites, of which 14 are on the danger list.

UNESCO is currently carrying out a two-year review of the state of conservation of all its African sites, due to be completed in July 2011, with recommendations for improving the state of the sites.

Eloundou said: "This periodic reporting will be a good opportunity to address some of these conservation issues in the future. The report will come up with some recommendations and actions to be implemented in the period 2011-2017."

He added: "Many African countries have recently started to realize the importance of World Heritage sites, as their good management and protection contribute to development.

"When a site is on the List of World Heritage in Danger, it's the responsibility of the international community as a whole to join hands in order to save the site's outstanding universal value which is threatened.

"UNESCO has developed activities and programs to address the problems. Sometimes, this is raising awareness of the importance of the site, sometimes it is working with other U.N. bodies to help reduce encroachment of refugees or militia groups on to the site, and sometimes it is training local professionals."

The most threatened natural sites in Africa include:

Five sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These comprise of four National Parks and one wildlife reserve are all threatened by civil unrest, armies and refugees moving onto the parks and poaching of endangered species.

UNESCO said on its website about one of the sites, Kahuzi-Biega National Park, there was "grave concern" about deforestation, hunting, war and civil strife.

It added: "Park facilities had been looted and destroyed, and most of the park staff have fled the area. The park may also be serving as a hideout for large militia groups, as well as for illegal settlers."

Another site, Virunga National Park, has been "in danger" since 1994 when it had an influx of refugees from neighboring Rwanda.

UNESCO said on its website: "The fuel wood requirements of almost one million refugees camping inside the Park is estimated at 600 metric tons/day and is leading to widespread depletion of forests in the lowlands."

Manovo-Gounda National Park in Central African Republic

This vast savannah is home to wildlife including black rhinoceroses, elephants, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, red-fronted gazelles and buffalo, according to UNESCO.

The organization said on its website that the site was listed in danger "because of illegal grazing and poaching by heavily armed hunters, who, according to some reports, may have harvested as much as 80% of the park's wildlife."

It added: "The shooting of four members of the park staff in early 1997 and a general state of deteriorating security have brought all development projects and tourism to a halt."

Rainforests of the Atsinanana in Madagascar

This site, covering six national parks, was added to the "in danger" list in July 2010 because of illegal logging of rosewood and ebony, and hunting of threatened lemurs.

Madagascar has a unique biodiversity which has evolved because of the island's separation from other land masses, UNESCO said.

It criticized the issuing of export permits for illegally logged timber.

Comoe National Park in Ivory Coast

Comoe is one of the largest protected areas in West Africa with great plant diversity.

UNESCO put the site on its danger list in 2003 because of the effect of the Ivorian civil war, which it said lasted for five years until 2007.

UNESCO said on its website: "Unrest in Cote d'Ivoire is having an adverse effect on the site, as is poaching of wildlife and fires caused by poachers, over-grazing by large cattle herds and the absence of effective management."

Mount Nimba Strict Natural Reserve on the border of Guinea, Liberia and Ivory Coast

This mountain, covered in dense forest and mountain pastures, has been on the in danger list since 1992, because of an iron-ore mine and the influx of refugees to the Guinean side of the reserve.