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Global warming, war, development threaten historic sites

NEW YORK, June 6 (Reuters) - Bombs in Iraq, better commutes in Ireland and melting ice caps are threatening the world's architectural and cultural gems, a nonprofit group said on Wednesday as it named 100 endangered monuments.

The World Monuments Fund's list for 2008 for the first time included climate change as a hazard for some of the world's great historic sites.

Surging development and commercialism, along with political conflict, also pose risk to sites such as the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem.

"On this list, man is indeed the real enemy," said Bonnie Burnham, president of the fund. "But just as we have caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it."

The group said Peru's Machu Picchu is threatened by unchecked tourism and St. Petersburg's skyline will be changed forever if Gazprom's planned skyscraper is built for the state-controlled gas export monopoly.

Tara Hill in Ireland, considered a sacred landscape, is now threatened by the development of a highway meant to ease the commute from Dublin. Canada's Herschel Island, situated on the edge of the Yukon and home to ancient Inuit sites, could be washed away in melting permafrost, the group said.

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq has put that country's entire cultural heritage at grave risk, the nonprofit group said.

"The archeological sites of Iraq are being looted at an alarming rate and the loss is catastrophic," said Michelle Berenfeld, program manager at the fund. "Unlike objects in museums -- for which there is at least some record of their existence and in most cases where they came from -- objects that are stolen out of the ground are completely lost, forever.

"In Iraq, where much of these archeological sites date to the earliest civilizations on the planet, the physical remains of those cultures are the main sources of information we have about them, so stealing them is like tearing out the pages of a history book that can never be rewritten," Berenfeld said.

Since 1996, the fund has made more than 500 grants totaling more than $47 million to sites in 74 countries.

While Burnham said the fund cannot be a policeman, it can raise public awareness, which has acted as leverage for funding from other sources. The group said its funds have drawn more than $124 million from other sources.

The New York-based group said more than 75 percent of endangered sites on previous lists had been rescued or were well on the way to being preserved.

The complete 2008 list can be viewed at www.worldmonumentswatch.org .
 
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