The area surrounding Lake Ohrid in both Albania and North Macedonia has been formally proposed for addition to UNESCO’s list of endangered sites.
There are currently 53 sites on the list. If Ohrid is added, it will be the fourth such site on the European continent.
Other European sites include the Historic Center of Vienna, the Maritime Mercantile of Liverpool, and the Medieval Monuments in Kosovo.
A UNESCO spokesperson said that being proposed for or added to the list is not a punishment. Rather, it provides an opportunity for a state to request “technical and even economic help from the international community to safeguard the outstanding universal value.”
UNESCO describes Lake Ohrid as a “superlative natural phenomenon” and a refuge for a large number of endemic species of flora and fauna. Some of these date from the Tertiary period, which is more than 66 million years ago.
It is also home to one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. Furthermore, it is home to the oldest Slav monastery, more than 800 Byzantine icons from the 11th-14th century and various prehistoric settlement remains. There is also a church on the Lin peninsula that dates from the middle of the 6th Century.
But the region has been under threat for quite some time. In January, UNESCO again reclassified the town of Ohrid as endangered, following 18 months of prior warnings. The organization claimed that North Macedonia had done little to fix various issues and the emergence of new threats.
Issues such as unrestrained development, lack of response to illegal construction, and the destruction of nature and the ecosystem were named as some of the key problems. UNESCO added there was a lack of awareness from locals and authorities about the need to preserve their heritage and the natural values of the area.
UNESCO has also asked that both North Macedonia and Albania coordinate together to strengthen legal protection. This includes sorting the sewage issue, establishing a moratorium of coastal and urban development, creating an inventory of illegal constructions and demolishing those that pose a threat to the area.
The proposals will be considered by the World Heritage Committee in China between 16-31 July 2021.
The Committee is also set to discuss the situation in Gjirokastra, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the construction of a carpark and new road are threatening the ancient city.