Conservation USA

Heritage, a developing country’s best friend?

A new report says sites could make $100 billion a year by 2025

On the verge of vanishing (from top): the medieval city of Ani in Turkey, the 18th-century Maluti Temples in India, and the Mayan settlement of Mirador in Guatemala

SAN FRANCISCO. A new report states that 500 archaeological and heritage sites in developing countries have the potential to generate $100bn annually by 2025 if significant international efforts are made for their preservation and responsible development.

Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, compiled by the San Francisco-based non-profit organ­isation, the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), under the guidance of a 24-person committee of global heritage experts, also identifies 12 sites “on the verge” of vanishing owing to looting, conflict, underfunding, mismanagement and development pressures. Sites dangerously close to disappearing include a group of 18th-century terracotta temples of the Pala Kings in Maluti, India, the ancient city of Nineveh situated on the bank of the Tigris River in modern day Iraq and the Mayan settlement of Mirador located deep within the Guatemalan jungle. A further 200 sites have been identified as “at risk” from a survey of 500 major archaeological and heritage sites in developing countries.

“Billions are being spent on climate change initiatives and wildlife and nature preservation but very little money is going towards organised funding for cultural heritages sites,” said GHF president Jeff Morgan, who called the current level of income “anaemic” saying that in the US, less than a quarter of one per cent of philanthropic donations go to heritage preservation.

Morgan cites the bureaucratic nature of organisations such as the UN as one of the main reasons large corporations choose to put their money elsewhere. “A corporation that wants to give money towards Guatemalan heritage doesn’t want to have to give the money to the UN who then hand it over to the Guatemalan government,” he said. He believes the creation of multi-billion dollar global funds, similar to The Global Fund to Fight Aids, and managed by a joint executive board of government and private sector leaders, will attract more private money.

The report states that “Global heritage sites are one of the most important economic assets of sustainable development for poor nations and their people.” The revenue for 2009 for the 500 surveyed sites shows an income of over $24.7bn, with 50 sites including the Great Wall of China, the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China’s Shaanxi Province and the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and its necropolis generating over $100m. The aforementioned sites topped the list bringing in $2.89bn, $1.92bn and $936m respectively. Of the 50 sites, seven made over $500m, 18 made between $500m and $200m with the remaining 25 making between $200m and $100m.

With tourism on the rise and an estimate of one-third of all international tourists visiting cultural heritage sites, the development of sustainable tourism programmes would provide local jobs and bring in much needed revenue to developing countries. “Unlike other industries such as mining that strips an area of its wealth, heritage keeps on giving over and over, year after year,” said Morgan.


Citadel and Sans Souci Palace, Haiti--the Versailles of the Caribbean. This UNESCO World Heritage site is facing a crisis after decades of neglect and insufficient management (Photo: Jeff Morgan)
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