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Venice won't be listed as one of the world's most endangered sites

A couple walks in a flooded Saint Mark's Square during high waters on Nov. 19, 2013, in Venice, Italy.
Marco Secchi
Getty Images
A couple walks in a flooded Saint Mark's Square during high waters on Nov. 19, 2013, in Venice, Italy.

Venice, with its maze of canals and historic buildings, won't be added to a list of endangered World Heritage sites — for now.

At a meeting to discuss World Heritage sites underway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, officials from 21 UNESCO member states decided Thursday not to add Venice, Italy to the World Heritage in Danger list.

UNESCO issued a report in July outlining the risks facing Venice, including extreme weather and rising sea levels caused by human-induced climate change, over-tourism and over-development.

A spokesperson for UNESCO, the United Nations body that designates and protects World Heritage sites, did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment on the reason why Venice, a World Heritage site since 1987, remains off the endangered list.

UNESCO's official statement about the decision reiterated addressing concerns "for the proper conservation of the site," which include tourism, development projects and climate change. "The protection of this World Heritage site must remain a priority for the entire international community," UNESCO stated.

UNESCO added it plans to send a delegation to Venice, and submit a new report about the issues facing the city by February of next year, with a view to discuss its inclusion on the World Heritage in Danger list again next summer.

Adam Markham, deputy director for climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and an expert on the link between climate change and cultural heritage, expressed frustration over the decision.

"The countries making the decision thought, 'Okay, let's give them a bit more time. They're doing some good work.' I don't think that's the case," Markham said. "They need the push now to act faster, bigger and do more. Otherwise, Venice is going to really be strangled to death from climate change and tourism."

There are currently 54 sites on the World Heritage in Danger list. New additions to the list in 2023 so far include Rachid Karami International Fair-Tripoli in Lebanon, The Historic Centre of Odesa in Ukraine, and Landmarks of the Ancient Kingdom of Saba, Marib in Yemen. Discussions about additional sites continue this week.

UNESCO did state the reason for its decision on Tuesday to remove one site — Tombs of the Buganda Kings in Kasubi, Uganda — from the List of World Heritage in Danger, where it was inscribed in 2010 following a devastating fire and has since undergone reconstruction.

"This reconstruction program was completed in the summer of 2023, enabling the site to reach the desired state of conservation," said the statement from UNESCO. "The reconstruction had been successfully implemented."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.