What Is the List of World Heritage in Danger?

UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger is a document of 55 heritage sites considered most in need of preservation and conservation.

Jul 20, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art


The List of World Heritage in Danger is a vitally important resource which allows careful attention, conservation and preservation work to be carried out on the places that need it most. Compiled by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which is made up of representatives from different nations from all around the world, the list is designed to emphasize world heritage sites facing ‘ascertained’ or ‘potential’ danger. There are 55 different locations on the list, ranging from ancient monuments and historic towns to islands and areas of rainforest, each facing their own unique set of issues. Below are some key facts about the List of World Heritage in Danger, including the places that are most at risk.


The List is Compiled by the World Heritage Committee

world heritage in danger sites
A still from Our World Heritage’s introductory video on its website shows various world heritage in danger sites. Courtesy of Our World Heritage. Via The Art Newspaper.


The UNESCO World Heritage Committee is responsible for drawing up the List of World Heritage in Danger, to highlight places from the World Heritage list that are in danger. Often shifting a site from the heritage to the danger list is a way of highlighting places that are most at risk of losing their key characteristics, warning local or national governments to take drastic action before it is too late.


Some nations even ask for one of their heritage sites to be added to the list so that funds from the UNESCO World Heritage Fund can be allocated to the preservation or protection of the location. Warnings about sites in danger can come from governmental or non-governmental organizations or private individuals, who must contact the World Heritage Committee via the World Heritage Centre. 


The List Includes 55 Different Sites

rainforest sumatra world heritage in danger
The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, on the List of World Heritage in Danger, via The UNESCO World Heritage Convention


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The List of World Heritage in Danger at the date of publication includes 55 different sites, which are each facing their own sets of current dangers. At least two thirds of these sites are man-made, including historic cities and towns, cathedrals, ancient monuments, places of worship, and more, with the other third being naturally occurring areas at risk of endangerment or extinction. 


Natural Phenomena

Exotic marine life in the endangered Gulf of California
Exotic marine life in the endangered Gulf of California


The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is on the list because it holds 2.5 million hectares of natural forestry which houses hundreds of endangered animal and plant species. Similarly, the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California is home to 695 different plant species, 891 different fish species, 115 reptile species and 154 land bird species, all of which are at risk of extinction following threats from fishing and hunting. Some other naturally occurring sites considered high risk on the list are the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve in the Cote d’Ivoire, the Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park in the Central African Republic, and the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras. 


Man-Made Constructs

st charles church vienna austria
St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche) in the historic city of Vienna, Austria, which is currently on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger


Meanwhile, the posterity of several ancient cities in the Syrian Arab Republic including Aleppo and Bosra are at risk due to industrialization and overcrowding. The Historic Centre of Vienna in Austria holds architectural marvels from throughout the Middle Ages, the Baroque period and the Grunderzweit, which are at risk due to ongoing urban developments. Other man-made sites on the list include The Historic Centre of Odessa in Ukraine, the Old Walled City of Shibam in Yemen, and the Rock Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus in Libya.


Sites Can Be Removed if they Are No Longer at Risk

galapagos islands ecuador
Sea turtles swimming in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, which has now been removed from danger


Sites can be taken from the danger list and regain their heritage status if enough work can be done to preserve their posterity. Some key examples include the Galapagos Islands, which were saved from being damaged by Ecuador’s strict control on tourism and fishing in the area, and the Belize Barrier Reef, which underwent a series of conservation measures via the Belize government in order to undo years of damage from industrial activity.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.