Gereza (Kilwa's Fort) in Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania, showing sea erosion and collapsed north wall. (photo courtesy of World Monuments Fund)

The World Monuments Fund (WMF) has identified three key factors it says are disproportionately threatening cultural sites around the world: climate change, underrepresented heritage, and imbalanced tourism exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. For for its 2022 World Monuments Watch, a list of 25 at-risk heritage sites around the world released every two years, the nonprofit is encouraging nominations that intersect with these urgent areas of concern.

“Cultural heritage preservation is at a turning point,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, WMF President and CEO. “New methods of working have to be explored to ensure humanity’s treasures are not lost to climate change, undermined by marginalization of specific communities, or threatened by lack of visitation due to the pandemic and unfettered tourism, once travel has resumed.”

Though the early shutdowns related to the pandemic appear to have reduced CO2 emissions temporarily, 2020 was Earth’s second-hottest year on record, with 103 named storms, raging wildfires, and exceptionally warm sea temperatures. Coastal flooding, drought, and extreme weather are a menace to the world’s archeological treasures, such as the thousand-year-old ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani off the southern coast of Tanzania, on WMF’s Watch since 2008 and facing erosion due to sea-level rise.

The built environment of historically marginalized groups is further endangered by centuries of colonialism, violence, displacement, and chronic underfunding for cultural preservation. Last year, WMF began reconstruction of the Mam Rashan Shrine, one of 47 Yazidi places of worship destroyed during the Islamic State’s genocidal campaign in Sinjar, Iraq, a nation whose cultural heritage has been decimated by decades of war.

Against the backdrop of racial and social inequities deepened by the coronavirus pandemic, WMF warns of the impending threats of “imbalanced tourism” to these landmark areas — unsustainably high or low levels of visitation resulting in an influx of crowds or plummeting revenues.

“What’s at stake is the rich legacy of places that give insight into the human condition in its many forms,” said de Montlaur. “They shape how we experience the world, orienting our understanding of history and its relevance today.”

Nominations for the 2022 World Monuments Watch can be made on WMF’s website through May 1, 2021. 

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...