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Libya's heritage under threat.



'ALL YOU CAN AND CAN'T IMAGINE', A poster produced by Libya's Department of Antiquities informs us. In Apollonia, where a stunning Greek theatre stands by the sea outside the old city walls, sewage from an increasing number of recently constructed buildings is polluting the sea, but a diving school is planned nevertheless.

This sad state of affairs provides a graphic illustration of the problem facing Libya's ancient sites: their preservation is taking second place to modern development, which is prioritised by the state. "I want to keep Libya beautiful, but it is hell bent on destroying its assets," lamented one archaeologist.

From early prehistoric sites in the desert, including spectacular rock art to the ruins of the ancient cities of matchless size and splendour, Libya's archaeological heritage is truly spectacular, comparatively little studied and hugely under threat. The opening of Libya's doors to the world and particularly to the West has stimulated a vast amount of development, especially in the hydrocarbon and infrastructure sectors in the economy: there is a veritable 'Gold Rush' of over 100 oil companies and innumerable other companies from all over the world wanting to do business with Libya.

With one of the fastest-growing populations in Africa, the Libyan government is attempting to develop a 'new way' for its society and economy. Archaeology has not been high on Libya's agenda, taking second place to the development of the state. There has been little or no history of state-funded archaeological research. The custodian of Libyan heritage, the Department of Antiquities, has been poorly supported by the state and is poorly positioned to deal with threats to the country's archaeological sites and monuments posed by the tidal wave of development. Libya has fantastic laws to protect antiquities--no development can be carried out without the consent of the Department of Antiquities--but these laws are not implemented.

Virtually all recent and current major development projects (water pipelines, urban construction, agricultural schemes, desalination plants, power stations, power lines, roads and railways) have been and are still undertaken without archaeological impact-assessment monitoring or mitigation. The Great Man-Made River Project was undertaken without any archaeological assessment of its effects, new developments are planned in archaeologically sensitive areas and opportunities to further knowledge of the past are being lost. Some of Libya's ancient sites are also being threatened by coastal erosion, among them the harbour of Apollonia, near the modern town of Susah.

A lack of state funding for the Department of Antiquities has left the majority of sites ill equipped and defaced by litter and sewage pollution. There is inadequate security at the sites and some of them are even being used for animal husbandry. Clandestine excavations are increasing to cater to the black market for antiquities.

But not all the news is bad: there are now encouraging signs of a sea change in the state's attitude to heritage and tourism, with instances of political and financial support to protect and enhance at least the most visible archaeological sites, in part from recognition of the growing importance of tourism for revenue earning and employment. Most importantly, steps are under way to enhance training and capacity building in heritage management, as well as upgrading archaeological sites, museums and tourist facilities.

In September 2007, at a historic ceremony amongst the archaelogical treasures of Cyrene in the Green Mountain region of eastern Libya, Qaddafi's son, Saif Al Islam, signed the Cyrene Declaration, which marked the inception of the world's first regional-scale conservation and development project dedicated to responding to the challenges and opportunities for sustainable development.

In the past, the state tended to see Libya's heritage as a landmark of colonial oppressors, but this attitude has changed during the past five years. It is now increasingly viewed as a revenue generator which can provide meaningful employment to Libyan men and women. There is still not enough emphasis on heritage in the national school curriculum and knowledge of local history is poor. Only a new generation of Libyans, proud and aware of their magnificent cultural heritage, can ensure its preservation.

As the Department of Antiquities points out, all you can--and can't--imagine is to be found in Libya. The country may well be on the way to resolving the dichotomy between the expansion of its tourist industry, seen in the construction of new hotels and the increasing numbers of travel agencies, and the degradation of its tourist sites.
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Title Annotation:MOSAIC: Libya's Heritage; Libya's Department of Antiquities is lacking funds
Comment:Libya's heritage under threat.(MOSAIC: Libya's Heritage)(Libya's Department of Antiquities is lacking funds)
Author:Ibrahim, Nadia
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:6LIBY
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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