Jamaica gets first World Heritage Site
Paul H. Williams, Hospitality Jamaica Writer
Encompassing parts of St Thomas, Portland and St Andrew, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, established in 1993, is a rugged but scenic place of great geographical and ecological diversity.
It has some of the most dramatic and dynamic landscapes in the island, with lush, unending ranges of majestic mountains, oft shrouded, kissed and caressed by fog and mists. Expansive valleys that look eerie when covered by sheets of cloud shadows are viewed from ledges, ridges and passes.
In the valleys, meandering around interlocking spurs are cool streams and rushing rivers, punctuated with sparkling or thundering waterfalls. It's the birthplace of rain. Within the thick foliage and waters come a plethora of creatures, some endemic to the region. And when night comes, the musical nocturnal creatures serenade the starry skies.
Protected by law, this nature lovers' haven is managed by the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) in collaboration with the National Environment and Planning Agency, the Forestry Department, and the Ministry of Youth and Culture.
But centuries before these organisations took charge, the passes, the rivers, the streams, the caves and the mountainsides were the preserves of the first freedom fighters in the Western Hemisphere - the Maroons. The place was their territory, their haunt, their refuge, their battle ground.
The Maroons used the environment and all that it had to offer to wear down the resolve of the English soldiers and militia who destroyed Old Nanny Town. But the mystical and warlike Nanny was undaunted, and relocated to continue the fight.
Nanny, Quao and the other fearless Maroons launched a guerrilla war upon the English, who, outwitted and broken, offered to sign a treaty of peace and friendship with the Maroons. That was in 1739, but the significance of the victory of the Maroons over the English has not been lost.
In addition to its value as a place of significant ecological diversity, the region has a special place in the story of the Jamaican people of African heritage, and that is why it was proposed to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria.
Jamaica's application process started a few years ago. But before inscription could be awarded, the site had to be nominated first. The evaluators, in the form of advisory bodies, were in Jamaica from October 27 to November 2 to inspect the nominated property for World Heritage Site status.
According to the World Heritage Convention, world heritage status is given to natural and cultural sites across the globe that are considered to be of "outstanding universal value", meaning that the sites possess cultural and natural significance "which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and are of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity". Elements of authenticity and integrity associated with sites must also be demonstrated in the nomination process.
So, after months of deliberation, on July 4, in Bonn, Germany, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was officially inscribed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. The inscription is historic on two levels. It is our first World Heritage Site, and it was inscribed as a mixed site, making it only the 32nd mixed site of the current 1,007 World Heritage Sites.
Jamaica is now one of only 24 countries with a mixed World Heritage Site, and one of only two small-island developing states with this status. The Blue and John Crow Mountains World Heritage Site is the first mixed site in the Caribbean.
The news is great, and most heart-warming, but how will such a designation benefit the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, and Jamaica by extension? The World Heritage Convention says, "By signing the Convention, each country pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage sites situated on its territory, but also to protect its national heritage." In addition, the World Heritage Convention has a raft of benefits for inscribed sites, some of which are listed below:
A key benefit of ratification, particularly for developing countries, is access to the World Heritage Fund. Annually, about US$4 million is made available to assist state parties in identifying, preserving and promoting World Heritage sites.
Emergency assistance may also be made available for urgent action to repair damage caused by human-made or natural disasters. The attention and the funds of both the national and the international community are focused on the conservation needs of these particularly threatened sites.
Sites on the list are a magnet for international cooperation and may thus receive financial assistance for heritage conservation projects from a variety of sources.
The inscription of a site on the World Heritage List brings an increase in public awareness of the site and of its outstanding values, thus also increasing the tourist activities at the site. When these are well planned and organised, respecting sustainable tourism principles, they can bring important funds to the site and to the local economy.
A release from the JCDT, through Dr Susan Otoukon, executive director, also explains how Jamaica stands to benefit from this important inscription: "Jamaica's recognition at the global heritage table will be significantly elevated as the country's cultural and natural heritage can now be measured according to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) managed by the Word Economic Forum.
"The TTCI has as one of its pillars of measurement the number of World Heritage sites in a country. World Heritage status opens up new realms for Jamaica in areas of tourism, research, and the promotion of local-based initiatives through the promotion of these areas."