In 1972 UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, established the World Heritage List to protect the world’s most important cultural monuments and natural landscapes from damage or destruction, so that they can be preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.
A total of 788 sites in 134 countries are included on the list. Of these, 611 are sites of cultural importance and 154 are outstanding natural landscapes and 23 are mixed. Amongst the most famous are the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China and Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
It is the World Heritage Committee that decides which areas will be included on the World Heritage List, based on proposals put forward by individual countries. In 2002, Greenland’s Home Rule government proposed Ilulissat Icefjord for inclusion, on the basis of the icefjord’s scenic beauty and its unique importance for long-term glaciological studies.
Any locality included in the World Heritage List automatically receives enhanced recognition and status. As the name of the list implies, the site, wherever it is located, becomes not only the responsibility of the host country, but shares that responsibility with the entire population of the world on whose behalf it is preserved and protected. It is a condition of inclusion on the World Heritage List that the host country avoid activities that damage or diminish the value of the site, but in practice it is only poor countries that can expect to receive direct financial help for a site’s preservation.