x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE joins 21 nations on Unesco panel

Al Ain has hopes to win spot on coveted World Heritage List and says membership on the committee would improve the UAE's chances.

A traditional performance at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain. The fort was built in 1897 under the supervision of Sheikh Zayed the Great.
A traditional performance at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain. The fort was built in 1897 under the supervision of Sheikh Zayed the Great.

NEW YORK // The election of the UAE to a UN body charged with preserving valuable cultural and natural wonders could help Al Ain's renewed bid to be named a world heritage site. The Emirates was one of a dozen nations elected to a four-year term on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's World Heritage Committee, which oversees 890 sites already on the World Heritage List, including the pyramids of Egypt and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Awadh Saleh, an expert on international organisations for the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), said membership on the committee would improve the UAE's chances of securing a first inclusion on the coveted Unesco heritage list. Al Ain officials have re-submitted for 2010 a previous application. Officials have worked hard for the six oases, archaeological sites and mountain peaks around the UAE's "garden city" to win a spot on the World Heritage List but have yet to succeed. Efforts go back to 2003, when a Unesco team took part in a survey on the city that concluded that it had the potential to be on the prestigious list.

"But now we are on the committee, we will be working with other members states and the top experts in the field, gaining experience for our own submissions," said Mr Saleh. "Al Ain is just the first submission - we are working on more applications in the future." Emirati heritage chiefs are also working on a group submission from a dozen countries to have the ancient practice of falconry listed by Unesco as an example of "intangible cultural heritage" worthy of global recognition.

The UAE joins 21 nations, among them Cambodia, France, Iraq and Mali, on the committee, which assesses new candidates and monitors whether sites are being protected. The Emirates was elected at a meeting at Unesco's Paris headquarters between in late October. The World Heritage List features a host of famous sites, such as India's Taj Mahal and New York's Statue of Liberty, alongside lesser-known locations including the windswept Socotra Archipelago off Yemen's coast.

As a committee member, the UAE will help assess whether contender sites fulfil the entry criteria of offering "outstanding universal value" and ensure applicants provide enough protection for their sites. The next session will be in Brasilia, Brazil, from July 25 to August 3. Members can also "de-list" a site if the host country fails in conservation efforts, as happened in June with Dresden Elbe Valley after German officials built a four-lane bridge through the heart of the cultural landscape.

"Being a part of this committee will make the UAE more involved in global mechanisms for conservation and help raise the standards for preserving our own heritage," said Mr Saleh. Representatives of 114 countries met in Abu Dhabi last month to decide upon inscriptions for the list of intangible heritage, selecting a form of Corsican singing, the tango of Argentina and Uruguay, and the collective fishing rites of Mali, among others.

@Email:jreinl@thenational.ae