30 cultural and natural sites eyed for World Heritage status at Unesco meeting in Doha
Unesco meeting will discuss Inca trails that span six countries, and a French cave with some of the world's earliest known paintings
Agence France-Presse in Doha
Inca trails spanning six countries, a French cave with some of the earliest known paintings and stunning Chinese landscapes are among the sites expected to get World Heritage status at a Unesco meeting in Doha.
At least 30 natural and cultural sites, including the Arbil Citadel in Iraqi Kurdistan, are vying to get the UN cultural body's prestigious distinction and add their names to a 981-strong list.
The June 15-25 World Heritage Committee gathering will also consider whether to put London's Westminster Palace on its list of endangered sites.
And, in a first for a developed country, Australia is asking that large swathes of its Tasmanian Wilderness - one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world - be delisted to make way for loggers. A World Heritage site is eligible for financial assistance towards preservation and the coveted status is also a powerful draw for tourists.
Qatar said at the start of the meeting on Sunday that it was donating US$10 million to protect world heritage in areas affected by natural disasters and conflicts.
"Common action is necessary," said Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad Khalifa al-Thani, a sister of the emir and chairwoman of Qatar Museums.
The listing of the Qhapaq Nan - a huge network of more than 30,000km of roads once used by the mighty Inca empire that snake over perilously high snowy peaks - would benefit Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Submitted by France, the Chauvet Cave, located in a limestone plateau of the meandering Ardeche River in southern France, contains some of the earliest known paintings, drawn more than 30,000 years ago.
The grotto has more than 1,000 pictures, many of which feature animals such as bison, mammoths and rhinos. The cave was closed off by a rock fall around 20,000 years ago and remained sealed until its rediscovery in 1994.
China has nominated two vast sites. The South China Karst, an extension to a World Heritage site first nominated in 2007, composes what Unesco called "one of the world's most spectacular examples of humid tropical to subtropical karst landscapes". Beijing has also put forward the Grand Canal, a 1,776km system of locks, canals and rivers that historically linked Hangzhou to the capital and Xian.
India, meanwhile, is hoping to have its Rani-ki-Vav stepwell on the banks of the Saraswati River in western Patan listed. The committee will also use the Doha meeting to issue warnings.
It has, for instance, raised concern that there are too few restrictions governing the development of skyscrapers in London, which it says could affect Westminster Palace, a World Heritage site.
Australia will also be under scrutiny, with two of its most high-profile protected areas facing threats to their status as World Heritage sites.
The Great Barrier Reef is considered in poor health and Unesco is considering whether to downgrade its status to "World Heritage in Danger".
Another of Australia's natural wonders under threat is the Tasmanian Wilderness, which covers nearly 20 per cent, or 1.4 million hectares, of the southern island state. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who favours more access for loggers, has asked Unesco to remove its World Heritage status from 74,000 hectares of the area, claiming it was not pristine.