Inca city Machu Picchu said at risk from tourists


OSLO – The Inca city of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes needs better protection from environmental threats including tourism and fast expansion of a nearby town, a leading conservation group said on Monday.

David Sheppard, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), also said that Russian organisers of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games should reconsider sites for the bobsleigh to curb threats to wildlife in the western Caucasus.

“Machu Picchu faces a lot of…challenges relating to tourism, uncontrolled growth of urban settlements, landslides, fires,” Sheppard told Reuters before a July 2-10 UNESCO meeting in Canada that will review a list of world heritage sites.

He said the IUCN wanted Machu Picchu, built in the jungle in the 15th century, to be added to a list of about 30 endangered sites worldwide among a total of 851 properties overseen by UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Other sites rated as in danger on the U.N. World Heritage List include four forest national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, medieval monuments in Kosovo and Iraq’s Samarra archaeological city.

“There is a case for a danger listing for Machu Picchu,” he said. Sheppard heads the protected areas programme at the IUCN, which has more than 1,000 members including government agencies, scientific institutes and conservation groups.

A danger listing can help mobilise donors but can be seen as criticism of current protection policies. “We haven’t heard from Peru,” he said. “We’re not trying to blow a whistle. We’re trying to identify the practical responses,” he said.

Lack of sufficient control over high visitor numbers and expansion of the town of Aguas Calientes in the valley below the 2,430 metre (7,972 ft) high Inca citadel were among threats.

“There needs to be a much tighter tourism management plan,” Sheppard said. “Some of the urban planning needs to be much more tightly controlled.”

Global warming, which may disrupt rainfall and contribute to landslides and forest fires, was also among risks for the city, built before Columbus sailed the Atlantic.

Sheppard said that the Russian 2014 Sochi Olympic Games were a worry. A joint UNESCO/IUCN mission suggested relocating the luge and bobsleigh centre and a mountain Olympic village to help safeguard animals and plants, he said.

On June 2, the U.N. Environment Programme also urged Russian Olympic organisers to seek alternative sites for the bobsleigh.