Tag Archives: #UNESCO

Felling Heritage


People used to intimately know places like the Bialowieza Forest, the last primeval forest in Europe, the wild places that made us what we are.

Now these place are relegated to small corners. They mainly inhabit our stories, little bits of baggage we carry with our culture through the millennia.

Traveling Landscapes.
Artist: Kathleen Vance

Spanning the border between Poland and Belarus, the Bialowieza forest is home to the Europe’s tallest trees and is a refuge to countless species of birds, mammals and invertebrates. Although not unaffected by war, especially during and after WWI when most of its native bison were exterminated, the forest has remained largely intact and untouched for over 10,000 years.

This is the kind of mixed forest and rich ecosystem that once covered most of Europe, and this last remnant of 140,000 hectares (540 sq. m.) was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979.

It’s a living museum piece, a sprawling natural monument to the world as it was when humanity was young.

Traveling Landscapes.
Artist: Kathleen Vance

Now that humanity is more mature, we have nation-states and borders, and the forest that was once a free-roaming thing is considered the territory of one place or another, whether or not UNESCO, or the European Union, or environmental activists, consider it to belong to all of humanity and the world.

In this case, the fact that some of the Bialowieza Forest is on the Polish side of an international border is critical. After decades of protection and management, the Polish government approved a massive increase in logging in the forest. This logging would go far beyond forest management activities meant to control pests or promote growth – 180,000 cubic metres (6.4m cubic feet) of wood over ten years.

Bialowieza Forest.
Photo: Emily Sun

Ignoring arguments put forth by environmentalists, scientists, universities, NGOs and a petition signed by 160,000 Polish citizens, the Polish government won a victory this week in a court challenge that would have granted environmental NGOs the legal status to challenge decisions made by the Polish Environment Minister, and to demand further environmental impact reports.

The next step will be charges brought by the European Union and possible sanctions for the violation of Poland’s agreements under the Natura 2000 program.

But, as with all such procedures, these things take time. And any pristine area where logging commences is an area that will be irretrievably altered. Bit by bit, what was a rampant cathedral to pre-humanity wildness becomes a memory, a smaller place, diminished by our hunt for resources and the money they bring.

Will the Bialowieza Forest become just one more living place packed away and stored our collective human memory?

Traveling Landscapes.
Artist: Kathleen Vance

International Flow


The Source d’Allondon, the head of the Allondon River in France. The ruins are of a former 19th-century mill.
Image: Florence Bourjas/Wikipedia

The Allondon River, a brief little slip as rivers go, starts as run-off from the Jura mountains, courses 22 km (14 m) through the area of France where I live, across the border into Switzerland, where it flows into the Rhône River on the Swiss side of the border before the Rhône itself flows into France. Considering its brevity, it’s quite the international traveler.

On calm days I can hear it from the back of our house, and it traces part of my running path. The name is of pre-Celtic origin and means ‘water of life’.

It’s also one of the sources of our drinking water, along with several reservoirs and two lakes. One of those lakes is Lake Geneva, across the border.

The water supply of our region is a trans-frontier affair, automatically rendering water issues a subject of international relations and negotiations. Fortunately, thus far the French and Swiss authorities seem in agreement on local water issues and how to approach them.

The proposed Gibe III hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia could size up a bit differently. The dam would be built on the River Omo in Ethiopia, which flows into Kenya, where it is the water source for Lake Turkana, the fourth largest lake in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Omo also provides water further downstream to Egypt and Sudan.

A section of the Blue Nile is diverted in May as Ethiopia prepares to construct a hydro-electric power dam. Source: Business Daily Africa

A section of the Blue Nile is diverted in May as Ethiopia prepares to construct a hydro-electric power dam.
Source: Business Daily Africa

The Kenyan government states that it isn’t interested in preventing the construction of the dam, but wants to ensure that the dammed water won’t be diverted for irrigation in Ethiopia, rather than released from time to time to feed Lake Turkana.

I read a reader’s comment on one of the articles. It said, “Don’t expect someone to tell us what to do with the water, it is our natural resource, we can do whatever we want. Our history show(s) that we are a nation that are willing to share our resources…” I’m assuming this was from an Ethiopian reader.

If, by the luck of the geographical draw, a country is rich with water resources that would, if left unhindered, flow through other countries downstream, who owns the water? If France and Switzerland were to develop a contentious relationship, or if resources became too scarce to share, just how generously would we be willing to share the Allondon with people across the border?

2013 is the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation. Not a particularly sexy title, but as stated on the International Water Law site, “it’s an important reminder that cooperation is needed at all levels – among individual and corporate users, districts and provinces within the country, and more importantly among states – to manage, share, protect and conserve the most vital heritage of mankind, its water resources.”

Do you know the source of your water?

Source d’Allondon


Lake of Superlatives

Lake Baikal. Panorama of the Maloye Morye, Island of Olkhon, the Olkhonskiye Vorota Straits, and Mukhor Cove Image: Magic Baikal

Lake Baikal. Panorama of the Maloye Morye, Island of Olkhon, the Olkhonskiye Vorota Straits, and Mukhor Cove
Image: Magic Baikal

Deepest, largest, oldest – Lake Baikal in Siberia is unique. Formed an estimated 25 million years ago in an ancient rift valley, it holds 20% of the world’s unfrozen freshwater, more than all the North American Great Lakes combined. At 5,371 ft (1,637 m) deep, it is the deepest. It is 395.2 miles (636 km) long and home to 1700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which don’t exist anywhere else. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Lake Baikal Map via thomasfrank.org

Lake Baikal
Map via thomasfrank.org

Lake Baikal has much to offer. One thing it will no longer have, however, is the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill.

Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill Image: unity.lv

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has stated that the environmental concerns of the lake outweigh those of the paper mill, which was opened in the industrial heydey of the the mid 1960s. It is estimated that the process of shutting down the plant will take two years – the liquidation of plant waste will take 4-6 years. Future plans include developing the area for tourism.

Medvedev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.”It’s time to muster up the courage and make responsible decisions.”

Lake Baikal in winter Source: satorifoto via ILTWMT


UPI.com article – Russia will spend $437.4 million closing down Baikal paper mill

AP article – Russia to close paper mill on Lake Baikal