November 10, 2005

By Jessica Chapman
The Kaselehlie Press

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization officials met with members of the FSM government and individuals from all four states last week to discuss the possibility of adding one or more of the country's cultural and natural sites to the organization's World Heritage list.

The three-day workshop in Palikir resulted in an action plan for the country to complete and submit in the next year a tentative list of sites to be considered by UNESCO. Pohnpei's Nan Madol, Chuuk Lagoon, the Lelu Ruins in Kosrae and Yapese stone money are among the considerations.

"Nan Madol appears to be a leading candidate," said archaeologist Rufino Mauricio. Mauricio, who is also assistant secretary for the FSM Division of Social Affairs, attended the workshop along with representatives and staff from the historic preservation, land and natural resources and community affairs divisions. Should a site be accepted to the prestigious World Heritage list, it would be eligible for ongoing UNESCO assistance as well as conservation and protection measures.

Ali Tabbasum and Ron VanOers, UNESCO program specialists based in Paris, attended the workshop to assist participants in drafting the action plan and to advise on the nomination process and UNESCO policy and procedure. They said a local site would likely encourage ecotourism in the FSM and provide a possible boost to local industry. "This particular part of the world has great riches," said VanOers. "[Nomination] can strengthen identity and of course there's a huge visibility."

There are currently 812 World Heritage sites worldwide, among 180 member countries. However, excluding sites in Australia and New Zealand, only one of them so far is in a Pacific Island nation. East Rennell in the Solomon Islands became a World Heritage site in 1998.

Regional World Heritage sites include Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. The Marshall Islands is in the process of nominating two sites: Bikini Atoll and Rongelap Atoll. The entire nomination process takes years and involves a great commitment from the nominating country.

A prerequisite for consideration is a country's membership in the World Heritage Convention. Once a member, a country can initiate the process of preparing a tentative list. The FSM joined the World Heritage Convention in 2002.

After UNESCO favorably receives a tentative list of sites, the country may begin the nomination process, which involves, among other things, devising an extensive site management plan. UNESCO considers 30-40 nominations a year on average. In order to be selected to the World Heritage list, a nomination must provide compelling evidence that a particular site is what UNESCO describes as of "outstanding value to humanity."

"They [must] make an important contribution to an understanding of how humankind developed or how rich biodiversity is distributed," said VanOers. The FSM has applied to UNESCO for $20,000 to assist with the preparation of the tentative list. For more information, including a complete list of World Heritage sites, go to http://whc.unesco.org.