UNESCO calls on US to end construction of Trump’s border wall over threats to world heritage site and wildlife

Conservationists have called for restoration of more than a dozen ecologically-sensitive and culturally-significant areas damaged by the wall’s construction

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Friday 23 July 2021 21:53
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Trump talks about wall, critizes Biden at US-Mexico border
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The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has urged the United States to halt construction of the border wall instigated by former president Donald Trump.

The committee also called on the US to work with Mexico to assess damage from the wall to a World Heritage site in Mexico, and adjacent protected lands in the US.

They also recommended a number of ways to restore the landscape and wildlife habitat.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on entering the White House to pause border wall construction. Last month, the administration canceled wall projects paid for with diverted military funds.

Conservation groups and the Indigenous Tohono O’odham people of Sonora, Mexico have called for the restoration of more than a dozen ecologically sensitive and culturally significant areas damaged by the wall’s construction.

Their 2017 petition sought “in danger” status for El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve along the border between the two countries.

This 2,700-square-mile World Heritage site shares a border with Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the US.

The UN body’s resolution, published on Wednesday, noted: “The negative impacts of the border wall on the biodiversity and conservation of the property is of utmost concern.”

It urged the US to halt construction and assess the damage and “develop appropriate measures to ensure the restoration of ecological connectivity”.

During the 2016 presidential race, Mr Trump vowed to build a “big, beautiful wall” that would run 1,000 miles along the southern border. The former president raced to complete his wall before he left office, eventually finishing more than 400 miles (644km) - but this included construction in places where barriers already stood.

Mr Trump’s first campaign centered on a crackdown on migrants and building a wall at the southern border, which he said would be “virtually impenetrable” and paid for by Mexico. This did not come to pass, although his harsh “zero tolerance” immigration polices, like family separation, tore hundreds of children from their parents.

Conservation groups heralded the progress this week.

“This is an important step toward repairing the devastation the border wall has done to communities and wildlife,” said Alex Olivera, a senior scientist and the Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We share a responsibility to protect wildlife in the Sonoran desert and reverse the horrific damage wall construction has inflicted on both sides of the border.”

UNESCO designated the El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve as a World Heritage site in 2013 due to the area’s incredible biodiversity.

The desert wildlife has evolved over millions of years, freely crossing the border. The Trump wall blocks essential movement and migration, fragments habitat and limits animals’ ability to search for food and water.

The wall also harms the Tohono O’odham people, who historically inhabited El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar. El Pinacate is sacred to the community, and the site is regularly used for ceremonial purposes.

Environmentalists have also warned that the wall is depleting water resources and destroying aquifers in areas prone to drought amid increasingly high temperatures driven by the climate crisis.

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