The World Heritage Convention concluded a three-day gathering Thursday by stressing that communities should be fully involved in the management and conservation of the sites the group designates, including activities to reduce the risks from man-made disasters and climate change.

The emphasis on giving communities, including minority groups within them, more say on how World Heritage sites are managed comes amid growing international concern over how to reconcile the need to preserve these areas with the demands of economic development, especially when they are near growing populations and land is limited.

“If one of the aims of the Convention is to ‘give heritage a role in the life of the community,’ then the concerns and aspirations of communities must be centrally involved in conservation and management efforts,” a vision statement released at the end of the conference said.

While delegates called for increased international funding for a host of new programs to raise awareness and otherwise aid communities in preserving World Heritage sites, including natural and cultural properties, central governments will still have to play the lead role, especially when approving development projects that put such locations at risk.

For example, northern parts of the city of Kyoto, including the conference hall where the delegates met, lie less than 60 km from the reactivated Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. Since the March 2011 nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, local-level governments in Shiga and Kyoto prefectures have expressed concern about evacuation plans in the event of a major quake or tsunami crippling the Oi complex.

Yet there have been few or no government decisions on creating plans to protect at least some of Kyoto’s 17 World Heritage sites from potential nuclear disasters.

World Heritage Center Director Kishore Rao offered advice for local communities and central governments alike, arguing “nuclear power plants should not be built near World Heritage properties.”

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