Amid reports of several cultural heritage sites being damaged across Yemen, UNESCO Office for the GCC and Yemen has developed a series of emergency response activities aimed at safeguarding Yemeni cultural sites and monuments of universal values from the ongoing conflict in the country.
Over the past few days, UNESCO received reports from cultural institutions and experts in Yemen of severe damage to significant cultural heritage sites in the country. According to several media reports and official sources, during the heavy bombing on the night of 11 May 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen's capital, the World Heritage Site of the Old City of Sana’a was severely affected, causing damages to many of its historic buildings.
To support local actors in managing risks on cultural heritage assets as a consequence of the ongoing conflict, UNESCO Office for the GCC and Yemen has concentrated its efforts on three main fields of action: assessments, technical assistance and monitoring.
In cooperation with the Category 2 Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARC-WH), based in Manama, the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities of Yemen (GOPCHY) and the General Organisation of Antiquities, Museums and Manuscripts of Yemen (GOAMM), UNESCO has prepared rapid assessment forms for historical buildings, archaeological sites and museum collections in Yemen to be used for rapid assessment of cultural heritage on the field.
In cooperation with ICCROM-ATHAR, a regional conservation training centre based in Sharjah, training is being organized through recorded sessions on risk management, rapid documentation techniques and disaster and risk preparedness as follow up to previous capacity building activities.
UNESCO is also working with GOAMM to obtain information on damages on archaeological sites and collections by introducing a rapid assessment of cultural sites and providing risk management trainings.
In close cooperation with GOPCHY, UNESCO is also revising the GIS database for the old city of Sana’a and its quarters of Rawda and Bir al Azab that was initially developed by UNESCO and GOPCHY from 2005 to 2008. The tool will be used to monitor the damages to the urban fabric and GOPCHY is being trained to this end.
The original GIS is the result of field surveys, inventories of buildings and open spaces through data analysis and the creation of thematic maps in order to define protection areas and establish zoning for the different levels of protection and categories for interventions.
A network of cultural actors who worked in Yemen is in the process of being established and damages against heritage are also being closely monitored.
To this end, and in response to reports of damage of several cultural heritage sites in Yemen, UNESCO Director-General, Ms. Irina Bokova, released a statement in which she said: “I am particularly distressed by the news concerning air strikes on heavily populated areas such as the cities of Sana’a and Saa’dah. In addition to causing terrible human suffering, these attacks are destroying Yemen’s unique cultural heritage, which is the repository of people’s identity, history and memory and an exceptional testimony to the achievements of the Islamic Civilization". (LINK)
“I call on all parties to refrain from any military use or targeting of cultural heritage sites and monuments, in respect of their obligations under international treaties, particularly the 1954 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, as well as the 1972 World Heritage Convention” said the Director-General, urging for the protection of Yemen’s cultural heritage sites from collateral damage or intentional targeting.
From the website of the UNESCO Office in Doha, Qatar.