A Global Crisis
The 21st century began inauspiciously with the destruction of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas in one afternoon by cannon fire and explosives. Today, our most sacred and ancient sites—Machu Picchu, Angkor, Petra—are being overrun by mass tourism, with millions of people crawling over fragile archaeological ruins. How long can these irreplaceable ancient sites last?
Imagine if the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore —the very symbols of the American nation—were damaged and destroyed through neglect or mismanagement.
Loss and destruction is the status quo for many of the most significant national treasures across the developing world. Hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites face a future of development pressures, unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, looting, and war and conflict.
While tourism to global heritage sites is exploding, funding for heritage preservation remains anemic.
Major archaeological and heritage sites exist thousands of miles away from our daily concerns. Though we may visit, most of us are unaware of the scale, scope, and pace of damage and loss. Few people realize that they can support critical conservation work at these sites with relatively little money.
Empowering local communities to be the stewards of their global heritage sites is critical. Many global heritage sites are located in natural protected areas and are inhabited by the descendants of those who built them. Local communities will always be the best stewards of their natural and cultural heritage, and the cultural heritage sites provide the economic engine that enables larger-scale nature conservation.
Like endangered species, many archaeological and cultural heritage sites are on the verge of extinction. They are an irreplaceable and finite resource. Without action to protect them now, accelerating economic pressures will end this long history.