Danger Listing

The Ohrid region is World Heritage in Danger, according to a draft decision from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre that will be reviewed at the World Heritage Committee’s 43rd Session in Baku, Azerbaijan from 30 June 2019.

If accepted by the committee, the Ohrid region will be formally placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, one step from losing UNESCO status altogether. The World Heritage Centre’s explanation for the draft decision is that permanent negative changes will result at Ohrid if the present management direction persists.

The property is now facing irreversible transformations of the overall relationship between the historic city, archaeological remains, natural setting, and Lake Ohrid, which can only be addressed by major changes to governance, management, planning, conservation and enforcement processes.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre, May 2019

In particular, the Republic of Macedonia has failed to implement the majority of 19 recommendations from a 2017 Reactive Monitoring Mission that was conducted to the Ohrid region by the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and the IUCN. These were intended to halt degradation of the region’s unique beauty, ecology and ancient architecture.

Among other shortcomings, Macedonia has

  • Not temporarily ceased transformation of coastal and urban areas;
  • Not conducted an inventory of illegal buildings;
  • Not assessed and removed illegal structures;
  • Not prevented the creation of new illegal structures;
  • Not established a buffer zone for the World Heritage Site;
  • Not fully considered alternative routes for an A2 road and railway;
  • Not developed robust legal infrastructure to protect the Ohrid region; and
  • Not yet started work to update its leaky wastewater system.

Although the World Heritage Centre praises Macedonia for cancelling previous plans for a ski-resort and express road in National Park Galichica on Lake Ohrid’s shore, it remains concerned that the government is not providing sufficient information about other plans for the region. From documents and announcements that Ohrid SOS has seen, these include widespread coastal developments.

“The on-going threats combined with large-scale infrastructure and development projects, individually and cumulatively, represent a potential Danger to the OUV of the property. It is considered that the property thus meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger according to Paragraphs 177, 179 b) and 180 b) of the Operational Guidelines. It is recommended that the Committee consider inscribing the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger”

UNESCO World Heritage Centre, May 2019

What happens next will largely depend on whether the UNESCO World Heritage Committee allows politics to get in the way of world heritage protection. Whatever they decide, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that Lake Ohrid, one of the most ecologically rich freshwaters on Earth, is on the edge of a disaster from which it may never recover.

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