World Heritage Rivers Under Threat
More than 900 of the world's most amazing natural and human-made wonders have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. From the Great Wall of China to Stonehenge, the Great Barrier Reef to the Grand Canyon, these are places of "outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity," according to UNESCO. They are, in a word, irreplaceable.
Over a dozen of these Sites are now threatened by large dams. Free-flowing rivers lie at the core of these Sites, acting as both biological corridors and sustenance for indigenous communities downstream. Dam construction can also lead to road building, land conversion and development, pollution, and often poaching by relocated communities.
Coalition to protect our World Heritage Sites
Local groups are leading the way in opposing many of these ill-conceived projects and protecting some of the world's most treasured natural and cultural heritage sites. Indigenous communities in Panama have worked to stop dams that would affect the La Amistad Reserve. Turkana activists have kept international financial institutions from backing the Gibe III Dam, which would jeopardize the health of Lake Turkana. Groups in Northeast India recently succeeded in turning back a shipment of turbines for the Lower Subansiri project. China's river-protection movement grew out of the campaign to protect the Nu River from others in the Three Parallel Rivers region.
International Rivers and our partners call on the World Heritage Committee and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre (the Committee's secretariat) to document the risks these dams pose, add the most threatened Sites to its List of World Heritage in Danger, and protect the growing list of dam-threatened sites worldwide.
Do you know of a threat to a World Heritage Site? If so, download the IUCN consultation form and follow the instructions for sending it to IUCN.
- Read the decisions by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th meeting in Cambodia.
- Read the final decisions by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th meeting.
- Read the NGO letter to the World Heritage Centre and Committee Members and the World Heritage Centre Director's response to letters from the public.
- View a petition to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to save the ancient town of Hasankeyf in Turkey and the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq.
- UNESCO World Heritage Centre
- World Heritage Committee members
World Heritage in the News:
- "No ‘danger listing’ for four natural World Heritage sites - against IUCN advice," IUCN press release, 29 June 2012.
- "Bhutan asked for dam impact report - Mangdechhu shadow over Manas," The Telegraph, 19 June 2012.
- "Stigler's Gorge power project starts in July," Daily News, 4 May 2012.
- "UN adds its voice of opposition to Ethiopia’s Gibe III power plan," Engineering News, 26 August 2011.
- "Damming Our World Heritage," chinadialogue, 13 June 2011.