The World Heritage Centre participated in the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction, held in Kobe, Japan, from the 18th to the 22nd of January, 2005. This meeting was especially timely in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean region, and also coincided with the 10th anniversary of Kobe’s devastating 1995 earthquake. As part of the broader Kobe Conference, the Centre organized a Thematic Session on Cultural Heritage Risk Management, together with the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, ICCROM, and the Ritsumeikan University. This activity was made possible thanks to a generous contribution by the Government of Japan.
Discussion focused on the vital role and contributions cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, can provide to disaster reduction, widening the perception that cultural heritage is simply an asset that must be protected in emergency situations. For instance, it was stressed that buildings constructed with traditional techniques and well maintained can be very resilient to earthquakes, and that a sustainable use of the land and the conservation of forests are essential to minimize the damaging effects of landslides and floods. Fishermen from the Andaman Islands, who knew from their forefathers that when the sea withdraws, humans must do the same, is a testimony to the ways in which traditional knowledge can save lives.
Participants stressed the importance of including cultural heritage and expertise as well as traditional knowledge of local communities in disaster-reduction planning and activities. The Recommendations that resulted from the Thematic Session are directed at international organizations, national governments and educational institutions and include: the development of capacity-building programmes for cultural heritage and disaster- management professionals; local awareness-raising campaigns; encouraging cultural heritage networks to integrate cultural heritage into disaster management plans.
The World Heritage Centre continues to closely follow the situation in areas affected by December’s earthquake and tsunami. Regularly updated information can found on UNESCO’s Web site.