NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than 200 of the world's most significant cultural heritage sites could be severely damaged or lost which would cost developing nations over $100 billion in lost revenue, a new report showed.
Haiti's Palace of Sans Souci, known as the "Versailles of the Caribbean," and Mirador, a massive pre-Columbian city in Guatemala, are among the 20 sites listed in the report as on the verge of irreparable loss and destruction due to mismanagement, looting, neglect, conflict and unsustainable tourism.
"These are wonderful, priceless cultural sites. If we don't do something, we could potentially lose them forever. It would be a tragic loss," said Jeff Morgan, the executive director the Global Heritage Fund, a California-based nonprofit group which published the "Saving Our Vanishing Heritage" report.
He believes the destruction of cultural sites does not receive enough attention from organizations such as UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
"UNESCO only talks about a few of these sites," he explained, adding that only 76 of the sites in the report are designated UNESCO World Heritage.
"Italy has 45 sites. Peru, a country with a long history and many important sites, has only nine. Guatemala has only three," Morgan said. "Governments must have a pretty good capacity to be able to take care of these places, and many just don't have the resources."
The report, which rates the 200 sites as at risk, under threat and on the verge, which is the most serious, said developing countries are missing out on billions of dollars in tourism revenue and jobs by neglecting cultural heritage sites.
"It wouldn't just mean tourism, it would diversify the entire economy and bring more foreign investment. Many global heritage sites are small, one kilometer by one kilometer, so we actually can have success within a couple years," Morgan said.
Other most endangered sites are in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Kenya, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Morgan said GHF is planning to launch an early warning system using satellite imagery and analysis to detect potential dangers at the sites.
"The system will allow us to see every instance of major looting, encroachment and loss in real time," Morgan said.
He attributes the problem to the lack of attention given to cultural heritage sites, poor organization and public relations failure. It is comparable, he added, to the problem faced by former Vice President Al Gore when he began his campaign to publicize the dangers of global warming.
"The story is not told well. We're where Al Gore was five years ago. There are thousands of scientists and experts. The skills are there, but there is nobody organizing them to be effective."