UNESCO’s executive board in its July 2020 meeting designated 15 new areas as new geoparks. Geoparks are single and unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic approach (UNESCO 2020). With these 15 newly designated areas, the total number of sites in the Global UNESCO Geoparks Network is now 161 covering 44 countries. The new geoparks include—Cliffs of Fundy and Discovery in Canada, Xiangxi and Zhangye (China), Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas (Finland), Toba Caldera (Indonesia), Rio Coco (Nicaragua), Estrela (Portugal), Hantangang (Republic of Korea), Yangan-Tau (Russian Federation), Djerdap (Serbia), Granada and Maestrazgo (Spain), the Black Country (United Kingdom), Dak Nong (Viet Nam) and Kula-Salihli (Turkey) (Extended). For the first time, geoheritage sites from Nicaragua, Russia, and Serbia have been designated as UNESCO Geoparks.
Image credit: https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/jaeinpokpo_falls_hantangang_geopark.jpg
Strangely, India missed the bus this time too. Out of 141 UNESCO Geoparks in the world, not a single geoheritage area in India has been identified. China conversely has 41designated geoparks—the largest in the world. Geoparks showcase a country’s rich natural heritage thereby enhancing the place value of many locales—gaining international recognition. They attract researchers, students, and people from all walks of life and empower local communities by providing new opportunities and also generate revenue through geotourism. It gives a sense of pride among the indigenous/local populace of the area. But, India is still deprived of this pride.
It is not that India does not have any geoheritage sites. There are 34 national geoheritage sites designated by the Geological Survey of India (Mazumdar and Bayan 2019). Some of them are of global significance. Besides these designated sites, there are some landscapes in India which also qualifies as a geopark. We can take the instance of the Eastern Ghats. “The Eastern Ghats is about 1,800 million years old and it encompasses a number of things that have archaeological and anthropological values. It also has a rich and ancient tribal culture. To protect all these things, pockets should be identified as per their value and converted into parks”, says Dr. Rajasekhar Reddy, Advisor to Geo Heritage Cell of Geology (Bhattacharjee 2014).
Unlike archeological sites and structures, which are well conserved and protected by laws and various designated institutions, geoheritage sites in India remain neglected. These sites are witnessing destruction from various quarters. The fossil sites located in different parts of India are being vandalised—fossils carelessly extracted are sold to visitors for paltry sums. Many global significance geological sections are being sacrificed under the garb of developmental needs. The wood fossils of the dinosaurian period in the Bagh area of Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh were destroyed to such an extent that it is now difficult to find a single fossil in the locality. The Anjar section in Gujarat, preserving a unique record of the event responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs, is almost destroyed (Mazumdar and Bayan 2019).
At the International level, the concept of geoheritage sites has been replaced by geoparks. Accordingly, we need to protect and develop such sites as a Geopark with all its allied facilities. Similarly, a strong legal mechanism is also required to halt rampant vandalism. An enriched governmental budgetary support and an active involvement of cross-sectoral stakeholders will increase awareness about the importance of these sites for local communities. Four features are fundamental to a UNESCO Global Geopark (UNESCO n.d.). These are:
1. Geoparks should be a geological heritage of international value,
2. It should be managed by a body having legal existence recognized under national legislation,
3. Visitors, as well as local people, need to be able to find relevant information on the UNESCO Global Geopark, and,
4. Networking among Geoparks is necessary in order to learn from each other.
We need to keep these features in mind to bring our national parks up to the standards and earn a platform that will allow us to showcase our rich heritage.
Image credit: http://www.kulasalihligeopark.com/services/1001/kula-divlit-volcanic-park.aspx
Bhattacharjee S. 2014. Geo-Heritage Sites Need Recognition: Expert, The Hindu, July 25. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Visakhapatnam/geoheritage-sites-need-recognition-expert/article6245577.ece
Mazumdar M. K. and B. Bayan. 2019. Conserving Indian Geoheritage: The Geopark Approach, Geography and You, 19(25 & 26): 6-15
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). n.d. Fundamental Features of a UNESCO Global Geopark. Available at http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/earth-sciences/unesco-global-geoparks/fundamental-features/
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). 2020. List of UNESCO Global Geoparks (UGGp). Available at http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/earth-sciences/unesco-global-geoparks/list-of-unesco-global-geoparks/. Accessed on July 10, 2020.