UNESCO Protects 19 New Biosphere Reserves

PARIS, France, November 2, 2004 (ENS) - India's Valley of the Flowers National Park, and the headwaters of Canada's St. Lawrence River - the Himalayan region that holds the world’s tallest mountain, and a string of Vietnamese islands where the threatened golden-headed langurs live - all are newly protected as additions to UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

Nineteen new sites in 13 countries were added to the network last week by the International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme meeting at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.


Valley of the Flowers in northern India is part of one of the 19 new UNESCO biosphere reserves. (Photo courtesy Tourist Places in India)
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves now covers 459 sites in 97 countries. Biosphere reserves are places recognized by the Man and the Biosphere Programme where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring in the interests of both sustainable use and biodiversity conservation.

They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.

Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil three basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing - to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation; to foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable; and to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.

At its meetings, the Council elects a chairman and five vice-chairmen to form the MAB Bureau. This Bureau meets between Council sessions to decide on nominations for biosphere reserve designations, and to review reports from expert working groups and ad hoc committees established by the Council.

For 2004-2005 the MAB Bureau Chairman is Gonzalo Halffter Salas of Mexico, an animal ecologist in Veracruz.


Gonzalo Halffter Salas of Mexico chairs the MAB Bureau. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
At last week's meeting the Bureau examined the case of the Dunaisky Biosphere Reserve in Ukraine, part of the Danube Delta Transboundary Biosphere Reserve with Romania. Ukranian construction of a navigation canal across the reserve to the Black Sea has been the cause of controversy and has been criticized by governments, NGOs, and the normally reticent Ramsar Secretariat, which is the caretaker of wetlands of international importance.

The Council expressed concern over the way in which the zones have been changed without local, national or international consultations, and encouraged the Ukrainian authorities to increase bilateral discussions with Romania, its partner in the transboundary biosphere reserve.

The MAB Bureau is to make a decision on this issue after November 20, when Ukraine will have submitted its official final zoning for the Biosphere Reserve.

Also, last week UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and Italian officials signed the first cooperation agreement between UNESCO and one of its member states for emergency heritage operations.

The partnership established between UNESCO and Italy will provide expertise in damage and needs assessment and in the drawing up of action plans. It will rely on an informal group of experts, named by the Italian government with UNESCO’s approval, to respond to specific emergencies.

For example, a project to stabilize the fifth minaret of Herat in Afghanistan, drawn up by Giorgio Macchi, was successfully completed in October 2003. The minaret would have collapsed within weeks were it not for the rapid intervention of UNESCO and Italy. Macchi is also a scientific advisor for a similar project to preserve Afghanistan's minaret of Jam and is a member of the scientific committee safeguarding Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The fifth minaret, on the left, was in danger of falling. The Soviets used it for target practice in the 1980s. Nine minarets stood at the turn of the 20th century. Three collapsed in earthquakes. A fourth was toppled during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy Radio Free Europe)
"Unfortunately we live in a world that is not safe from destruction caused by nature or mankind,” said Matsuura, emphasizing that “UNESCO’s mission is to prevent destruction, and also to provide reconstruction assistance and, increasingly, to intervene in emergencies.”

“The shared experience of UNESCO and Italy in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and in North Africa is the basis upon which the new agreement was built," said Italian Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani, who signed the pact. It has showed us that, the better we prepare, the better we are able to join forces and respond to the expectations of countries affected by conflict or natural catastrophe."

The new Man and the Biosphere Reserves include two sites in Algeria, two sites in China, three sites in Russia, and two sites in Vietnam. In total, there are 19 new sites and one expanded site.