Historic sites in Brazil such as the infamous slave harbour Valongo wharf are in danger of crumbling unless they receive more funding, the country’s national heritage authorities have warned.
Twenty-one local governments have demanded that extra care and funding is provided for the upkeep of Brazil’s 14 Unesco cultural heritage sites and seven natural heritage sites.
“The main problem is the lack of public policies guaranteeing adequate infrastructure, which affects the heritage sites,” Andrey Schlee, a director at the National Historical and Artistic Patrimony Heritage (IPHAN), told Brazilian newspaper Folha do S. Paulo.
Without policies to maintain local town infrastructure, tourists lack incentives to visit many of these historic town centres, with picturesque vistas spoiled by crumbling historic buildings and litter-filled pavements.
Rio de Janeiro’s Valongo wharf, where almost one million Africans arrived and were sold as slaves during Brazil’s colonial period, is one of the sites which could be affected.
The Valongo wharf was declared a Unesco site last July, based on archaeological discoveries of mass graves for slaves who did not survive the journey across the Atlantic.
Although the municipal government intends to turn the area into an open-air museum by 2020, institutions charged with caring for the sites have been threatened with closure several times as their funding ran low.
Other sites likely to be affected include historic town centres such as São Luís, where economic difficulties in the early 20th century preserved entire streets of Iberian colonial buildings.
Historic centres in tourist magnets like Olinda, Ouro Preto and Salvador could also be under threat.
Cities recognised by Unesco have reported increases in tourism by up to 50 per cent, and argue that refurbishments would open the door to more government funding.
Brazil’s central government signed off on a £124m deal in 2013 committing to preserving Unesco sites, but IPHAN officials say supplementary measures are necessary. “We want to refurbish the pavements, install electric wiring, and invest in basic sewerage, which many of these historic cities don’t have,” said IPHAN’s director of special projects, Robson de Almeida.