More than 500 experts convened in Venice today for the start of a three-day meeting to examine 30 years of efforts by the United Nations to preserve internationally renowned cultural and natural sites.
The meeting of the World Heritage Congress marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted in 1972 in an effort to forestall the deterioration or disappearance of any item of cultural or natural heritage.
Delegates to the Congress are slated to analyze the successes and problems of applying the Convention over the past three decades, work out ways of raising awareness of the treaty and the efforts of the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to protect World Heritage sites, and strengthen future partnerships for World Heritage conservation.
Between 1978, when Ecuador's Galapagos Islands became the first UNESCO World Heritage site, and this year, when the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan became the latest, the list of World Heritage list has swelled to include a total of 730 sites of "exceptional universal value" spread across the world's five continents.
They include such famous places as the ancient city of Machu Picchu in Peru, the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, China's Great Wall, the Medina of Essaouira in Morocco and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
"The World Heritage Convention is a noble, vital force in the world, fostering peaceful coexistence and honouring our past in equal measure with our future," said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
The World Heritage Fund earmarks almost $4 million each year to help countries party to the Convention prepare the candidature of potential sites, send technical and expert missions to sites and provide emergency help for those hit by disaster.