The panel on ‘Heritage and Water’ during the UNESCO International Water Conference (13-14 May at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris) highlighted the spiritual and cultural significance of water at many heritage sites, and called for enhancing cooperation between planners and practitioners to demonstrate the importance of water management systems to policymakers.

They also emphasized the need to ensure the transmission of heritage values by supporting community-based organizations in water management, and the importance of continuing dialogue among water planners and heritage professionals, as begun during the UNESCO conference. With its broad mandate on sciences, education and culture, UNESCO is excellently placed to facilitate an inter-sectoral dialogue in this spirit.

This panel explored the cultural significance of water and the importance of water management through a number of case studies, including the elaborate networks of canals and tunnels of Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy (Indonesia). The Okavango Delta in Botswana, a vast oasis of life for people and biodiversity in the middle of a semi desert ecosystem, was another example, along with discussion of watershed management to protect the archaeological remains, urban structures and traditional fishing settlements along the shore of Lake Ohrid, of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region (North Macedonia). 

Water is essential for human lives and fundamental to all civilizations. Freshwater is one of the basic needs for the survival of human beings, so ensuring the availability of freshwater and conserving water resources have been central to many cultures of the world. Where water is scarce, civilizations have invented sophisticated ways to manage water resources. Water heritage reflects human ingenuity and tireless efforts to achieve optimal use of water in often challenging natural environments.

Link to conference programme