New Delhi: The World Heritage Committee, currently in session in Baku in Azerbaijan, decided to remove the site of Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works (Chile) from the List of World Heritage in Danger due to the Chilean government’s ongoing efforts towards its sustainable conservation and management.
The Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works are two former saltpeter refineries located in Northern Chile. UNESCO declared the refineries a World Heritage Site in 2005 because they signify a coming together of South American and European peoples and cultures as saltpeter (potassium nitrate) that was produced in Chile and was exported around the world in the 19th century, especially to Europe.
Moreover, the mines were the largest producers of saltpeter in the world and brought in huge amounts of revenue for the region. Additionally, the mines and the towns they were situated in acquired a distinct identity with their own language, customs, and creative expressions.
Along with adding the site to the World Heritage Site List, UNESCO simultaneously added the refineries to the List of World Heritage in Danger due to the “fragility of their buildings, the lack of surveillance and maintenance over 40 years, and damage caused by high winds.” And, after an earthquake in 2014, some of the buildings weakened further and risked collapsing.
The List of World Heritage in Danger is a collection of World Heritage sites that are particularly vulnerable to various factors like armed conflicts, natural disasters, poaching, pollution, unplanned urbanisation and so on, and inscribing a site to this list allows the World Heritage Committee to “allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property.”
However, UNESCO removed the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger and commended Chile for implementing various measures to safeguard the refineries.
These measures include the establishment of 24/7 surveillance, construction of fences around the property, a bypass to prevent traffic from entering the site as well as the implementation of security measures for tourists and visitors. Additionally, the state also developed a safeguarding strategy and established a management plan for the site which the Committee further appreciated.
The ongoing 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee will end on July 10.