Sadly, UNESCO Label Won’t Save These 2 Indian World Heritage Sites

A study has singled out Manas and Keoladeo National Parks as being especially threatened. And we should be worried.

Published
Environment
3 min read
Birds at the Keoladeo National Park. (Photo: Reuters)

Last week, a study warned that human activity is severely damaging over a 100 UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites around the globe.

What’s worrying is that two Indian sites – Assam’s Manas National Park and Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan – have been listed among those that are especially threatened.

What is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site?

To be listed as a Natural World Heritage Site, a location must be of be of “outstanding universal value”. It must also meet criteria ranging from natural beauty to ecological significance.

There are four selection requirements to be listed as a Natural World Heritage:

  • It must have “superlative natural phenomena” or places of “exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”
  • It is an “outstanding example” of “major stages of earth’s history”
  • It represents important and ongoing processes in the creation and development of ecosystems
  • It has key habitats for conservation of biodiversity

Since 1992, UNESCO has also recognised a “mixed” category that tries to address the limitations of trying to divide sites into “cultural heritage” and “natural heritage”.

This mixed category is one that protects cultural landscapes or areas that show “significant interactions between humans and the natural environment”.

What Does the Study Say?

The study, authored by James Allan of University of Queensland and others, was published in the journal Biological Conservation. It relied on two main criteria to identify the severely damaged natural heritage sites:

  • Human footprint: This parameter considered the human impact on the environment – meaning, activity that can damage nature. It looked at the human footprints relating to transport, agriculture and built areas. Later, these were couples together to come up with a comprehensive map of human impact in an area.
  • Forest cover loss: Declining rates of forest cover often correspond to land use changes.

What’s Worrying for India

The study singled out two Indian Heritage Sites as being especially threatened:

Manas National Park

Located in Assam, Manas National Park is home to tigers, elephants and other protected wildlife such as the golden langur and the wild water buffalo.

The study showed that human pressure on the site was among the highest in the world and almost three times that of other Natural World Heritage Sites.

Even more worryingly, the pressure has been rising sharply over the past two decades. While Manas has been removed from the list of World Heritage Sites in danger, it is clear that the future is far from rosy for it.

Keoladeo National Park

This Park, located in Rajasthan, is famous for its incredible bird diversity, particularly in the winter months when migratory birds visit the area.

Sadly, this incredible habitat is threatened by a variety of factors and is even listed as a threatened wetland under the Ramsar Convention. The study reported a human footprint number for Keoladeo which was over four times the global average and one of the highest in the world.

UNESCO Tag Not Enough

A UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site label is clearly not a magic bullet to solve the issues that threaten these incredible spaces. Getting the prestigious tag is only the first part of a long struggle to protect these sites.

After the initial listing, a synchronised effort by citizens, government and civil society is needed. And that is where much more work is needed to be done.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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