Timbuktu (English pronunciation: pron.: //; French: Tombouctou pronounced: [tɔ̃bukˈtu]; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu), formerly also spelled Timbuctoo and Timbuktoo, is a town in the West African nation of Mali situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali. It had a population of 54,453 in the 2009 census.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated 129 World Heritage Sites in Africa. These sites are located in 37 countries (also called "state parties"); Ethiopia is home to the most with nine sites, and twelve countries have only a single site each. Three sites are shared between two countries: the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea), the Stone Circles of Senegambia (the Gambia and Senegal) and the Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe). The first sites from the continent were inscribed in 1978, when the Island of Gorée of Senegal and the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ethiopia were chosen during the list's conception.
Each year, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee may inscribe new sites on the list, or delist sites that that no longer meet the criteria. Selection is based on ten criteria: six for cultural heritage (i–vi) and four for natural heritage (vii–x). Some sites, designated "mixed sites," represent both cultural and natural heritage. In Africa, there are 83 cultural, 41 natural, and 5 mixed sites. Several efforts have been devoted to increasing the number of sites and preserving the heritage of existing sites on the continent; for example, on 5 May 2006, the African World Heritage Fund was launched by UNESCO to target the region of Sub-Saharan Africa. It planned to protect the sites by hiring personnel for state parties to maintain national inventories of existing sites, as well as to "prepare nomination dossiers for inscription onto the World Heritage List." Grants were also destined to help the "[conservation] and management of heritage properties in general" and to rehabilitate properties in danger. The drive was initially funded by South Africa with US$3.5 million, and, as of March 2011, has amassed $4.7 million from various countries, with an additional $4.1 million in pending pledges. UNESCO has also attempted to increase awareness of African human origin sites in Ethiopia, with a goal of conserving and protecting the areas from further deterioration.