The destruction of the famous Buddha statues of Bamiyan, condemned world-wide, could not be prevented despite appeals by UNESCO and ICOMOS. This incredible act of vandalism points like a beacon at the various risks and threats with which our cultural heritage is still confronted, even after the end of a century of terrible destructions. Consequently, the ICOMOS report for the year 2001-2002 once again contains a whole range of acts of barbarity, such as the demolition of the stele of Metera in Eritrea and the devastation of the prehistoric sanctuary of Mnajdra in Malta.

The new ICOMOS World Report 2001-2002 on Monuments and Sites in Danger, with reports from more than 60 countries, complements last year’s World Report, which was the first of its kind and received considerable recognition, not only among colleagues but also in the public media of many countries. Once again the report was produced by a Taskforce of members from Australia, Canada and Germany, as well as by an enlarged editorial board. It well illustrates that the situation is still highly critical for numerous monuments and sites in many regions of the world. Nevertheless, there are occasional cases where the protection of monuments can be successful. In some situations the Heritage at Risk Report has already proven to be a useful instrument for defending threatened monuments. Having information about the potential dangers to our cultural heritage is immediately an advantage and a step in the right direction, as only those monuments and sites that are recognised and recorded as such can be protected with legal means. And in order to provide help in the case of risk there is first a need for world-wide information about the dangers that are threatening our monuments.

In this sense we hope that the Heritage at Risk report will inspire further commitments at national and international levels, generate new initiatives in preservation, and provide an additional and 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 has the potential to influence other internationally operating sponsors, particularly in the current climate of increased awareness of the economic importance of heritage conservation and its special role in terms of ‘sustainable development’.

With its Heritage at Risk Report, ICOMOS hopes to not only 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 historic heritage in many countries of the world, and can detect dangerous trends at an early stage.

The types of threats that show up in the reports that are presented here are very diverse. On the one hand, humankind’s built historic 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, as in the region of former Yugoslavia, are still leading to tremendous losses. But human-made disasters also include the consequences of the world-wide pollution of our air, water and land - including the pollution-linked destruction of monuments of metal and stone, which in some cases have deteriorated faster in the last decades than they have in previous centuries. The current threats to our historic 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.

Faced with this social and economic change, historic buildings that are no longer in use become endangered by deterioration or by destruction through neglect. Even the historic building-stock that is put to good use often lacks the means for the simplest building maintenance; in the long run this, too, leads to loss. In many countries, however, not only are the financial resources unavailable to guide such developments in the direction of cultural continuity, but the political will is also missing. This is demonstrated, for instance, by the absence of a State preservation organisation with appropriate experts, by the total lack of preservation laws, or by legal statutes that exist but are not put to use. The continuous loss of the historic heritage is pre-programmed if there is not a certain amount of public-sector protection in the interest of the general public. As well, without sufficient protection, the criminal element operating in the background of the international art market continues to develop. Many archaeological sites are still 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 in their original context. Not only paintings, sculptures and artefacts from cultural sites are being decimated through this theft in many countries, but art monuments are actually being destroyed in order to gain fragments for the market: temple complexes are being looted, sculptures decapitated, and frescoes cut up.

With or without an economic motive, such shocking acts of vandalism now have an even worse effect thanks to the arsenal of destructive technologies that is available today, in an epoch in which even the most distant corner of the earth is ‘accessible’. In some countries the tourism industry - ubiquitous in its connection with monuments, historic districts and cultural landscapes - apparently provides the only reason to protect monuments, at least as sightseeing objects. A community-based soft tourism naturally would have its positive effect on preservation. But mass tourism, to which entire cultural landscapes have fallen victim over the last decades, today still 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. Elements of the tourism industry exploit the cultural heritage through over-use that is sometimes ruinous (consider some of the Egyptian grave sites), but do not render any serious financial contribution to the protection and preservation of the cultural heritage.

Finally, in the development of an increasingly globalised world dominated by the strongest economic forces, the tendency to make all aspects of life uniform represents an obvious risk factor for 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 craft traditions, out of which the historic heritage has developed in the course of centuries. Nevertheless, the mass products of industrial society that are distributed world-wide remain a tremendous threat because they continue to displace the historic techniques of 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 ‘housing landscapes’ have fallen victim.

In addition to the loss of handicraft traditions - a loss that must be fought against in the interest of sustainable development - monuments are endangered during rehabilitation work by the use of inappropriate methods and technologies. This is particularly the case when properly trained professionals and other preservation specialists are not available at all or in sufficient numbers, and when preservation know-how is missing. Thus many well-meant preservation measures also fail, simply on the basis of lack of competence. I would like to emphasise here that in preservation practice the maintenance and repair of the existing building stock, which often would require only modest financial means, is more important than many a luxury rehabilitation or extreme reconstruction, which may in fact cause damage to a monument. Overzealous restorations based on aesthetic or sometimes even religious arguments can also represent a danger under some circumstances.

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, countless archaeological sites are disappearing around the world because of the erection of dams. 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 are being lost, making room for concrete constructions used all over the world. These materials are obtainable locally (a fact of great importance in terms of sustainable development in the future) and once defined entire cultural landscapes, but now represent a mostly unprotected historic heritage that is not recorded in any monument list. We are also losing the built evidence of our industrial history - structures erected with modern techniques and now themselves worthy of preservation pose 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.

ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, with some 6000 members organised in 109 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 humankind’s historic 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 principle, be numbered among the non-endangered monuments, but our report shows that here, too, there are cases of substantial danger. 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 outstanding significance for the objects on the list, but also appropriate State protective regulations for the monument and its surroundings, a protection that unfortunately does not exist in some countries. Thus, for various reasons, in future Heritage at Risk reports even the greatest works of humankind may appear - ‘works of unique and universal value’ - as it states in the provisions of the UNESCO Convention.

ICOMOS is naturally aware that this second Heritage at Risk Report cannot be complete. However, a new Heritage at Risk report of ICOMOS will be published every year. As well, the report will be added to continuously and disseminated through the Internet . As President of ICOMOS I am sure that the message of the Heritage at Risk report will be understood as an urgent appeal to the world public to commit itself to saving our cultural heritage more than ever before.

Michael Petzet