On Earth Day, a Look at Heritage and the Environment across the Globe
Once the capital of French West Africa due to its status as a hub of maritime commerce, the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis is renowned for its distinctive colonial architecture and urban layout. As rising sea levels drive floods in Saint-Louis's historic districts, the island-bound city—a 2008 World Monuments Watch site with a population of roughly a quarter of a million—faces an extraordinary threat to its irreplaceable heritage and way of life.
Saint-Louis—which was designated a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 2000—is hardly the only Watch site threatened by climate change and habitat loss. The Cultural Landscape of the Bunong People, a 2022 Watch site located in Cambodia, is a patchwork of forests sacred to their Indigenous inhabitants, who continue to steward the environment and practice traditions and religious rites within the space. But the steady encroachment of loggers and the privatization of a landscape once held in common are a serious challenge to both the spirit forests and the cultural practices that have developed around them.
In Benin and Togo, the earthen architecture of Koutammakou, Land of the Batammariba, faces shifting precipitation and wind patterns that weaken the mud plaster out of which the region’s signature buildings are made. But Koutammakou, which World Monuments Fund (WMF) named to its Watch in 2020, also offers unique mitigation strategies. The area’s traditional earthen structures, or sikien, are built using natural and renewable materials, allowing for the storage of atmospheric carbon; additionally, the buildings also have a natural air-cooling effect.
WMF remains committed to partnering with communities heavily impacted by climate change, whether in the form of disaster relief efforts or the implementation of projects that proactively mitigate the worst effects of changing weather patterns. This Earth Day, these and other World Monuments Watch sites serve as powerful reminders of the threat posed to our most treasured places by climate change and natural habitat destruction—as well as the solutions heritage sites hold for our future.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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World Monuments Fund’s work at Koutammakou has been made possible, in part, by American Express.