This third edition of the ICOMOS World Report on Monuments and Sites - Heritage at Risk 2002/2003 - with its reports from about 60 countries is intended to complement the information of the earlier editions. The first two editions, Heritage at Risk 2000 and 2001/2002, found a lot of recognition not only among conservationists, but also in the public media of many countries. The front and back covers of the second edition, first presented to the public on 9 February 2002 at Queen Victoria Memorial in Calcutta thanks to an initiative of ICOMOS India, showed the Buddhas of Bamiyan blown up by the Taliban in March 2001. On the back cover of the printed version of this third edition the equally barbarous destruction of thousands of Armenian tombstones (Khatchkars) is shown - a criminal action almost unknown to the public, for which the government of Azerbaijan must be held responsible. The front cover is a reminder of the endangered cultural heritage in Iraq, where, during the final preparations for the printing of this latest Heritage at Risk Report, a war seems to be unavoidable - despite world-wide protests and with yet unknown consequences for the unique monuments and sites of this region.
The Heritage at Risk Report 2002/2003 is proof that the situation of the cultural heritage is still highly critical in many regions of the world. While time and again billions are being invested into the preparation of war and destruction, the responsible often lack the necessary commitment when it comes to preserving the threatened heritage of past centuries and millennia. Therefore, we can only hope that the H@R report will inspire further commitments on national and international levels, generate new initiatives in preservation, and provide an additional positive impulse for existing institutions such as the ICOMOS-supported Blue Shield. The effect should also extend to international foundations that are involved in preservation such as the Getty Foundation or the World Monument Fund. Their good example could also influence other internationally operating sponsors, now that there is also increased awareness of the economic importance of heritage conservation and its special role in terms of “sustainable development“. In this sense, with its Heritage at Risk Report ICOMOS hopes not only to gain the moral support of the world public in the battle against all kinds of threats, but also to achieve practical results in co-operation with all forces that are interested in the preservation/conservation of the cultural heritage.
As a non-governmental organisation, ICOMOS can identify monuments in danger from a strictly preservation-based perspective without political considerations, can bluntly address the absolutely desperate situation facing the cultural heritage in many countries of the world, and can reveal dangerous trends, including the effects of globalisation. The types of threats that show up in the reports that are presented here are very diverse. On the one hand mankind’s built cultural heritage has always been threatened by natural disasters: by the consequences of earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, floods and fires, as well as by the effects of natural weathering and attack by insects or plants. On the other hand wars and ethnic confrontations are still leading to tremendous losses. But man-made disasters also include the consequences of world-wide pollution of our air, water and land such as the pollution-linked destruction of monuments of metal and stone, which in some cases have deteriorated faster in the last decades than they had in the previous centuries. Indeed, the current threats to our cultural heritage are in many ways incomparable to those of earlier times now that we live in a world that has been undergoing faster and faster change since the last decades of the 20th century. This rapid development, taking place under the pressures of world population growth and progressive industrialisation, leads to ever-greater consumption of land - destroying not only archaeological evidence under the earth but entire historic cultural landscapes - and to faster and faster cycles of demolition and new construction with their concomitant burden on the environment.
In an epoch in which even the most distant corner of the earth is “accessible", mass tourism, to which entire cultural landscapes have fallen victim over the last decades, represents a danger. It remains a disappointment that, despite the many assurances at countless conferences on the theme of tourism and preservation, there is a lack of commitment by the tourism industry, which by now with its sales in the billions is the most important branch of industry world-wide. The tourism industry exploits the cultural heritage through over-use which is sometimes ruinous, but does not render any serious financial contribution to the protection and preservation of the cultural heritage.
Finally, in the development of an increasingly globalised world that is dominated by the strongest economic forces, the tendency to make all aspects of life uniform represents an obvious risk factor for the cultural heritage. With the new global “lifestyle“, attitudes to historic evidence of the past naturally also change. However there is hope that in some places this very globalisation is causing a renewed consciousness of the significance of the monuments that embody regional and national identity. This trend can also be identified for artistic and craftsman’s traditions, out of which the cultural heritage has developed in the course of centuries. Nevertheless the mass products of the industrial society that are distributed world-wide remain a tremendous threat because they continue to displace the historic techniques of the skilled craftsman, and thus prevent the possibility of repair with authentic materials and techniques that is so critical for preservation. Consider, for instance, the continuous replacement of traditional clay and wood construction with concrete structures to which so many traditional “house landscapes“ have fallen victim.
With its Heritage at Risk initiative ICOMOS is concerned with monuments and sites in the broadest sense: not only individual monuments but also different types of immovable cultural properties such as archaeological sites, historic areas and ensembles, cultural landscapes and various types of historic evidence from prehistory up to the modern movement of the 20th century, as well as monument-related collections and archives. Given our cultural diversity, the threats and dangerous trends outlined above naturally have different effects in the different regions of the world and in some circumstances endanger only special groups of monuments. For example, rock art and archaeological sites, belonging to the earliest witnesses of mankind, are threatened world-wide by road construction, dams and other unscrupulous plans. In many countries archaeological sites continue to be plundered by illegal excavations, and the illicit traffic of works of art represents a continuous loss of cultural goods that from a preservation perspective should be preserved on their original site. Not only paintings, sculptures and the artefacts of cult sites are being decimated in many countries through theft, but art monuments are actually being destroyed in order to gain fragments for the market: temple complexes are being looted, sculptures decapitated, frescoes cut up. The wave of destruction is also affecting historic town centres as well as villages. Innumerable historic urban districts suffer from a careless, often totally unplanned renewal process and uncontrolled urban sprawl in their environs. In the face of the industrialisation of agriculture, vernacular architecture is particularly endangered in many countries, disappearing altogether or sometimes “surviving“ only in a few open-air museums. Construction methods using clay, wood and stone - materials that are obtainable locally (a fact of great importance in terms of sustainable development in the future) and which once defined entire cultural landscapes but now represent a mostly unprotected cultural heritage that is not recorded in any monument list - are being lost forever. But also the built evidence of our industrial history, structures erected with once modern techniques and now themselves worthy of preservation, poses difficult problems for the conservationist when the original use is no longer possible. And even architectural masterpieces of the modern movement of the 20th century are threatened with demolition or disfigurement (compare the report of ICOMOS UK).
ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites with some 7000 members organised in 118 National Committees and 21 International Scientific Committees is the advisory body for UNESCO on issues concerning the world cultural heritage, in particular the evaluation of monuments and sites that have been placed on the World Heritage List or are under consideration for listing. On the whole, the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage remains one of the few successful efforts at world cultural politics directed at saving mankind’s cultural heritage, and ICOMOS is proud to be able to work with UNESCO as an advisory body. The monuments and sites, historic districts and cultural landscapes that are entered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List should in fact be numbered among the non-endangered monuments, but our reports show that here, too, there are cases of substantial danger. Besides, a certain unevenness in the representation of the non-European countries in the UNESCO World Heritage List has to do with the fact that the Convention demands - justifiably - not only unique significance for the objects on the list but also appropriate state protective regulations for monuments and sites, a protection that unfortunately does not exist in some countries.
The new ICOMOS World Report 2002/2003, once again looked after by a taskforce of members from Australia, Canada and Germany, can also be found on the internet (www.international.icomos.org/risk2002). It includes contributions from individual colleagues and various national and international committees of ICOMOS. I would also like to thank the experts of 18 countries who participated in the Heritage at Risk workshop during our General Assembly in Madrid (1-5 December 2002). Their contributions are an essential part of this publication. Among them are countries which had not written any reports for Heritage at Risk before (see, for instance, the comprehensive report on the situation in Algeria). Apart from that I commend the input from all ICOMOS colleagues and committees and also note, in line with ICOMOS policy, that the information provided for this publication reflects the independent view of each committee and the different authors. Our experienced editorial team had very committed support from Jane Harrington, an Australian colleague, who edited most of the English texts. John Ziesemer once again dedicated considerable time to the edition of this publication. I also would like to thank Hannelore Puttinger from the ICOMOS Secretariat in Munich, as well as Gaia Jungeblodt and the staff of the International Secretariat in Paris, especially Olivia de Willermin as well as Cameron Hartnell and José Garcia, who added the material to the ICOMOS website. The publication of the World Report 2002/2003 would not have been possible without the financial and organisational framework provided by ICOMOS Germany and made possible through the generous support of the German Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural Affairs and the Media as well as of the Messerschmitt Foundation. Finally, I once again extend my thanks to the K.G. Saur publishing company, particularly Manfred Link, for facilitating the printing of this publication which had to be compiled under great pressure of time.
ICOMOS is naturally aware that also the third Heritage at Risk Report cannot be complete. But in the coming years new reports will be published, and as President of ICOMOS I am confident that the message of every H@R report will be understood as an urgent appeal to the world public to commit itself to saving our cultural heritage more than ever before.