UNESCO awaits damage report from flood-battered Venice
Published: Nov 27, 2019 03:14 PM

The St. Mark's Square is flooded in Venice, Italy, Nov. 17, 2019. (Photo by Elisa Lingria/Xinhua)

The flood-battered iconic Italian canal city of Venice draws attention from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s World Heritage Center, according to media reports.

Mechtild Rossler, the center's director, said a change could be in the cards for the city, even though UNESCO has listed Venice and its lagoon as a protected heritage site for 32 years.

"Venice must be careful," Rossler warned recently. She told the media that UNESCO was waiting for Italy to submit a report on the status of the city in the wake of repeated floods that has kept most of the city's 118 islands underwater for nearly two weeks.

Italy declared a state of emergency for the city when the floods came, making the city eligible for emergency funds. The city is also expected to receive aid money from the European Union (EU) and from UNESCO itself.

"Key buildings that are within the world heritage area are threatened and this is of great concern, especially since the recent floods are not an isolated incident," she said.

Photo taken on Oct. 12, 2017 shows the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, France. (Xinhua/Chen Yichen)

However, it is unlikely for Venice to get removed from the list of world heritage sites, according to Sandro Amorosini, an attorney specializing in cultural issues and an author of three books about Venice.

Amorosini told Xinhua that he believes the Rossler's statements about Venice are just a warning to the government. "They make a valid point: UNESCO is looking for deeds, not just words," he said.

Venice was first warned about its UNESCO status in 2015, Rossler said, due to worries about the city's tourism management: Nearly 25 million tourists visit the city each year, a massive number for the city of just 50,000 residents living in the core historical center.

A man looks at a flooded street in Venice, Italy, Nov. 17, 2019. (Photo by Elisa Lingria/Xinhua)

Another worry, according to UNESCO, is the damage to the ecologically fragile Venice lagoon as a result of the massive cruise ships passing through en route to the Port of Venice.

Rossler noted that Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro led a large delegation visiting UNESCO headquarters in Paris in September, before the recent round of floods, to discuss the challenges facing the city.

"The authorities in Venice got the message," she said. "If they hadn't, they would not have come to Paris."

Venice has continued to be swamped by floods last weekend, 11 days after the city reached the highest water levels seen in 50 years.

There are 1,121 world heritage sites in the UNESCO list. Italy has 55 of them.