A fund to help the States of sub-Saharan Africa improve the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage will be launched in South Africa on 5 May. The African World Heritage Fund will also be used to help boost the number of African sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Sub-Saharan Africa is severely under-represented on the List. Despite great cultural and natural diversity, only 65 of the 812 World Heritage sites are to be found in this region. They constitute 43 percent of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Under the Fund, grants will be awarded to help African States Parties to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention* prepare national inventories of their heritage sites and prepare nomination dossiers for inscription onto the World Heritage List. Help will also be extended to train personnel to carry out these tasks.

Conservation and management of heritage properties in general, including those already inscribed on the World Heritage List, will also be eligible for funding. Such will also be the case with rehabilitation assistance for properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

South Africa has donated 20 million rand (US$3.5million) to help launch the Fund, while India and Israel have also pledged contributions. The private sector is also being encouraged to contribute and is expected to become a key partner in the future.

Created as a Trust under South African law, the Fund will be managed and housed for at least two years by the Development Bank of Southern Africa, which has thus far handled the feasibility study and the registration of the Fund free of charge. It will be run by a Board of Trustees, including two for each of the African Union's five regions and three additional members with permanent observer status. UNESCO and the African Union will have one observer each on the Board. All trustees will be experts in heritage preservation. Their unpaid appointment will be for a three-year term of office, renewable once.

The first grants from the Fund will be made in 2007. Grant applications will be reviewed yearly.

*Forty sub-Saharan African States have ratified the World Heritage Convention. Only 24 have sites on the World Heritage List of which 32 are natural sites, 31 are cultural and 2 are mixed.