Shame on Spain: Doñana National Park risks being listed as Endangered World Heritage

by Lorraine Williamson
World Heritage Doñana National Park

MADRID—Doñana National Park is teetering on the edge of being included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger unless swift action is taken. 

The latest UNESCO report, set for discussion at the upcoming World Heritage Committee meeting in Saudi Arabia from September 10 to 25, urgently calls for measures to improve the deteriorating water quality in Doñana. 

Related Article: Doñana’s largest permanent lagoon is drying up again 

UNESCO has granted Spain until December 2024 to provide an updated report on the park’s current state and the efforts made to protect it. The organisation has starkly warned that failing to act could result in Doñana’s inclusion in the list of endangered World Heritage sites. 

Rising concerns 

Moreover, UNESCO’s alarm bells are ringing loudly. A decline in the number of waterfowl spending winter in the park has been noted, along with the cessation of breeding for some key species due to prolonged drought and insufficient surface water. 

The report also sharply criticises a proposed law from the Parliament of Andalucia, which seeks to legalise unauthorised wells. 

The Aznalcollar mine controversy 

The report advises extreme caution concerning plans to reopen the Aznalcollar mine, another initiative by the Andalucian government. Before any final decisions are made, UNESCO insists that conservation and emergency plans be reviewed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. 

Cogesa Expats

The devastating environmental disaster triggered by the Aznalcollar mine basin’s rupture in 1998 remains fresh in public memory. Then, the accident released over 4 million cubic metres of toxic sludge into the protected natural reserve. 

WWF weighs in 

Despite the ongoing “catastrophic situation,” WWF is concerned that UNESCO has not yet proposed adding Doñana to the list of endangered areas. 

WWF is calling on the president of the Junta de Andalucía to withdraw the controversial proposed law immediately and permanently. They are also urging the implementation of the Strawberry Plan—as endorsed by UNESCO—and for the Junta to collaborate with the central government on a comprehensive, joint action plan to restore Doñana’s hydrological balance. 

A National Disgrace 

Juan Carlos del Olmo, Secretary General of WWF Spain, lamented, “UNESCO is once again threatening to add Doñana to the ignominious list of endangered World Heritage Sites. This would be a real disgrace for Andalucia and Spain.” He added, “We hope President Moreno Bonilla heeds this warning and fulfils his international obligations.” 

For a nation that takes pride in its natural splendours and biodiversity, the looming risk of Doñana’s inclusion in the World Heritage in Danger list serves as a dire warning and a clarion call for immediate action. 

Related: Doñana: From World Heritage Site to ‘stinky pond’ 

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