State of conservation information system
Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention refers to the conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List and indicates that each “State Party to this Convention recognizes that the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 and situated on its territory, belongs primarily to that State. It will do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources and, where appropriate, with any international assistance and co-operation, in particular, financial, artistic, scientific and technical, which it may be able to obtain.”
As per Paragraph 24 of the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the Convention , some of the main functions of the World Heritage Committee are to:
- Examine the state of conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List through processes of Reactive Monitoring and Periodic Reporting,
- Decide which properties inscribed on the World Heritage List are to be inscribed on, or removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger, and
- Decide whether a property should be deleted from the World Heritage List.
Paragraph 169 of the Operational Guidelines indicates that “ the Secretariat, other sectors of UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies (report) to the Committee on the state of conservation of specific World Heritage properties that are under threat. To this end, the States Parties shall submit by 1 February to the Committee through the Secretariat, specific reports and impact studies each time exceptional circumstances occur or work is undertaken which may have an effect on the state of conservation of the property. ”
As part of the reactive monitoring process for properties inscribed on the World Heritage List and on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies prepare reports on the state of conservation of some selected properties to be examined by the World Heritage Committee each year.
Since 1994, more than 2 000 reports on the state of conservation of World Heritage properties have been prepared and examined. Besides compiling background information on the property and reviewing information from different sources, these reports highlight the factors affecting the property and its Outstanding Universal Value and propose activities to mitigate the threats. In some cases, they also include a set of corrective measures and a timeframe for their implementation.
On the basis of these regular reports, the World Heritage Committee decides, in consultation with the State Party concerned, whether additional measures are required to conserve the property; whether to delete the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger if the property is no longer under threat; or whether it should consider the deletion of the property from the World Heritage List if the property has deteriorated to the extent that it has lost those characteristics which determined its inscription on the World Heritage List, in accordance with the procedure set out in paragraphs 192-198 of the Operational Guidelines .
In the 40 years of existence of the Convention , thousands of such reports have been prepared by the UNESCO Secretariat and the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee, which represents an exceptional and extensive documentation on various conservation issues, but is very difficult to exploit in its current data recording. It is one of the most comprehensive monitoring systems of any international conventions, through a global network of nearly 1 000 sites.
Furthermore, at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011), the World Heritage Committee pursued its on-going reflection on the trends of the state of conservation of World Heritage properties and, considering the need for more systematic monitoring of threats, called upon the States Parties to the Convention to support the establishment of a comprehensive "state of conservation information system" to support analytical studies and assist all stakeholders in site-management, with the target to make this system operational, on the World Heritage Centre's website, by the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2013 (Decision 35 COM 7C – paragraph 5 ). To reinforce the need of such database, in its Decision 35 COM 12E - paragraph 13 , the World Heritage Committee requested the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to provide, in the state of conservation reports on individual properties, a link to an integrated online database compiling all relevant background information concerning the property (previous state of conservation reports and Committee decisions, Desired state of conservation, corrective measures, International Assistance requests, etc.) necessary for well-informed decision-making, to be hosted on the World Heritage Centre's website.
Finally, in its Decision 35 COM 12E - paragraph 9 , the World Heritage Committee also requested the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to develop options to strengthen and improve the state of conservation reporting process, in particular to increase dialogue with States Parties about World Heritage properties facing challenges. The establishment of the proposed information system will definitely increase such information sharing and communication between all partners involved in the sate of conservation process.
At the opening of the 18th session of the General Assembly of States Parties to the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO, 2011), the Director-General of UNESCO officially launched the 40th Anniversary of the Convention , and reminded all parties that the conservation of our common heritage is at the very heart of this nearly-universally ratified convention and flagship programme of UNESCO. She called upon States Parties to the Convention to “ ensure that the interest of World Heritage prevails over other considerations ” and to make “ special efforts (…) during the Anniversary year to get more investments in conservation of our priceless heritage of humankind ”. It is also in the dynamic of this 40th Anniversary year that the World Heritage Centre has to embark on such an ambitious project and make those invaluable data available to the world, for an ever-improved conservation of its cultural and natural heritage.
The General Assembly furthermore discussed the evaluation by the UNESCO External Auditor of the Global Strategy and the PACT Initiative, in particular the analysis to refocus activities on conservation (see Document WHC-11/18.GA/8 – Recommendations 15-25: “Restore conservation as a priority”).
Objectives of the project
This project aims at developing a comprehensive and integrated computerized information system (database) on the state of conservation of World Heritage properties since the first reports in 1979 and the factors affecting their outstanding universal value: this state of conservation database will be hosted on the World Heritage Centre’s website and integrated with its current databases (on Nominations, International Assistance, Tentative Lists, States Parties information, statutory documentation, World Heritage Committee’s decisions, etc).
It will be available for all stakeholders of the Convention . The database will be accompanied by a multi-search form (per year, per property, per State Party, per Region, per type of threat, etc) in order to extract the exact set of data required by the users and to produce the relevant charts. In addition to its obvious purpose in terms of monitoring the state of conservation of properties, this information system will highly contribute to the institutional memory of the World Heritage Convention and will facilitate well-informed and consistent decision-making.
This database will also allow all involved to conduct comprehensive analyses of the threats affecting the properties and their evolution over time. These analyses will help identify generic threats, underlying key issues and potential trends over time. They will assist States Parties to improve the mitigation measures to better protect their properties.
This project would not have been possible without the generous support of the Flanders Government. Its continuous support in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention is greatly appreciated.