On April 16, 2016 the head of the Cultural Heritage office in Dezful, Iran, announced that, “due to the recent rainstorm in Dezful and the rise of water levels in the Dez River, a part of the historical water mills and the ancient bridge of this city have been wrecked, and some of the facilities are completely destroyed.”
The ancient bridge and water mills built over the Dez River are 1700 years old and date back to the Sassanid Dynasty and King Shapur in Iran. Most of these mills were used before the beginning of the 20th century. The bridge has been repaired and rebuilt over the years by King Azdodole Deilami during the Saffavid and Pahlavi dynasties.
Professor Roman Ghirshman believes that the site represents the oldest water system in the world. The system was registered in the Iranian national list of historical sites and was on the verge of getting registered in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.
Considering the site has been intact for many centuries, the present situation reflects a degree of negligence on the part of relevant authorities, despite the fact that the experts working for the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization have repeatedly noted the dangers of heavy transportation activities over the bridge.
The real extent of destruction to the water mills and the bridge is still unknown.
In 1983 UNESCO established 18th of April as the International Day for Monuments and Sites. The designation of this day aims to raise public awareness about the diversity and vulnerability of the world’s built monuments and heritage sites and the efforts required to protect and conserve them. In addition, each year has a different theme. The 2016 theme for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) International Day on Monuments and Sites celebrated is: The Heritage of Sport, looking ahead to the Olympics in Brazil, is The Heritage of Sport.
This day is also commonly known as World Heritage Day. However, whilst UNESCO is the organization that lists World Heritage Sites, this day is not just about the listed sites, but brings attention to all cultural heritage places and landscapes of international, national and local significance.
The World Heritage Day is also a good day to create educational and informative projects for students and educators. For example The UNESCO site gives details of success stories and successful restorations as well as world heritage sites in danger.
In addition, ICOMOS also gives a list of ways for the public to celebrate the day or the week:
- Visits to monuments and sites, and restoration works, possibly with free admission
- Articles in newspapers and magazines, as well as television and radio broadcasts
- Hanging banners in town squares or principal traffic arteries calling attention to the day and the preservation of cultural heritage
- Inviting local and foreign experts and personalities for conferences and interviews
Organizing discussions in cultural-centers, city halls, and other public spaces
- Exhibitions (photos, paintings, etc)
- Publication of books, post-cards, stamps, posters
- Awarding prizes to organizations or persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the conservation and promotion of cultural heritage or produced an excellent publication on the subject.
- Inaugurate a recently restored monument
- Special awareness raising activities amongst school children and youth
- Promotion of collaborative opportunities between organizations, defining areas for co-operation’ exchange of speakers; organization of meetings and seminars, or editing of joint publications.
Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Mechtild Rössler, in a recent call, acknowledges the great efforts of those engaged for World Heritage protection, and calls for civil society as a whole to increase its commitment to protecting World Heritage sites, stating that World Heritage is humankind’s common heritage, and the responsibility for its conservation is shared by everyone.
In the call, UNESCO acknowledged the support of NGOs such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and referred to its latest report, stating that 2015 saw an unprecedented level of action from governments and the private sector around the world. “In January last year, the government of Kiribati declared its entire World Heritage site – the largest site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – off limits for fisheries; in May Shell decided to renounce drilling in the Chukchi Sea which threatened Wrangel Island Reserve System in Russia; and in December the government of Belize announced a permanent ban on oil extraction in its World Heritage area.”
In addition, The Director of the World Heritage Center welcomes cooperation with NGOs, including WWF, on the protection of World Heritage sites worldwide as partners in the identification, nomination and protection of World Heritage properties. UNESCO also stated that, thanks to NGOs and civil society, many States Parties have been alerted to potential threats to their irreplaceable heritage and to sites of Outstanding Universal Value. The World Heritage Committee is taking increasingly strong action to prevent deterioration of World Heritage sites and mitigate threats to them.
In a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the organization reports that at least 114 of 229, close to half, of world heritage sites of outstanding importance for species and habitats are now being threatened by industrial development, mining and other activities.
These sites include Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon in the US, and China’s giant panda sanctuaries in Szechuan among many others. These sites are all supposed to be protected under the United Nations’ designated world heritage status. But encroachments from industries, including fossil fuel exploration and illegal logging, are threatening to destroy the valuable habitats, the conservation charity WWF said on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016.
World heritage sites fall under three categories: cultural, natural and mixed. “Natural” heritage refers to sites with outstanding physical, biological and geological formations, including the habitats of threatened species of animals and plants, and areas with scientific, conservation or aesthetic value. On the other hand, Cultural heritage refers to monuments, groups of buildings and sites with historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value. However, many sites hold qualities that give them what is called “Mixed heritage”, referring to sites which include both cultural and natural criteria.
According to UNESCO’s criteria, there are currently 229 designated world heritage sites with natural “outstanding universal value”. Currently, 197 are solely natural sites, and 32 are mixed, displaying both natural advantages and cultural input. These two designations account for more than a fifth of all UNESCO world heritage sites, the others being mainly human constructions, such as Venice.
The Guardian Newspaper reports that the critics have suggested that the UN has not done enough to ensure the protection of the many sites that it designates as worthy of special conservation. UNESCO world heritage status is a coveted accolade, but also confers responsibilities on the governments of the countries in charge of the sites.
The benefits of preserving such sites extend far beyond the boundaries of the areas under special protection, according to the report. It is clear that having a site designated as a Heritage site brings attention and tourism and with that comes Jobs in tourism and conservation. On the other hand the protected areas provide food, plants, water, medicine and other benefits to millions of people. One great example is the case of the Belize Barrier Reef, where the construction of buildings along the coast, accompanying clearance of the mangrove swamps – which provide a shelter against storm damage and erosion – are affecting the lives of 190,000 people, or about half the state’s population.
WWF is calling on governments to ban harmful industrial activities in designated world heritage sites and their surroundings, and calling on the international companies with interests in such areas to take responsibility.