Following the devastating fire at Mount Kenya National Park in February 2019 and the subsequent rampaging wildfire at Simien Mountains National Park in April 2019, UNESCO organized a capacity-building workshop in disaster risk management for World Heritage site managers and other stakeholders from Kenya and Ethiopia from 11 to 14 June 2019 at Mount Kenya World Heritage site in Nanyuki County.

Thirty World Heritage professionals, including management authorities, non-governmental organizations, practitioners, and community stakeholders from all seven World Heritage sites in Kenya and from Simien Mountains World Heritage site in Ethiopia, participated in a three-day Disaster Risk Management Workshop, which was supported by UNESCO and organized in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Services.

In light of the emerging challenges facing World Heritage properties, including increased exposure to climate change impacts such as extreme weather events, the workshop aimed to enhance the capacities of  participants in disaster risk reduction techniques and mitigation strategies. Participants reviewed recent disasters at World Heritage sites, which have posed major challenges to the conservation of the “outstanding universal values” for which the sites were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They also discussed the impact of such disasters on the wellbeing of surrounding communities, since World Heritage properties play a significant role in contributing to sustainable development through the provision of ecosystem services.

The workshop included presentations by staff from the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), which focused on the overall framework of UNESCO 1972 World Heritage Convention, and the management and protection of Kenya’s World Heritage properties.  UNESCO shared lessons learnt from other World Heritage properties that had been impacted by various natural, anthropogenic and socio-natural hazards. The presentations further outlined and discussed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and its application in better protecting and managing World Heritage properties. The KWS and Mount Kenya Trust shared their first-hand experiences of responding to the recent wild fires in Mount Kenya World Heritage site, including the successes and challenges in managing the disaster, and the lessons learnt.

During the second day of the workshop, a field visit was organized to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which is part of the Mount Kenya World Heritage property and home to a high number of rare and endangered wildlife species, such as the black rhino and the Grevy’s zebra.  During the visit, the workshop participants studied the conservancy’s strategies for risk planning and disaster response mechanisms, including how to mitigate negative impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

The workshop highlighted the critical role played by civil society organizations and communities in assisting governments in disaster mitigation, preparedness, and response as well as post-disaster recovery. The workshop also included a presentation by UNESCO focused on the alarming impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties and the importance for World Heritage stakeholders to integrate climate change impacts in risk planning at the local level.

Participants engaged in group work to analyze risks and develop a disaster risk management plan for their respective World Heritage properties.

Key recommendations of the workshop included the need to develop standard operational procedures for preparing and responding to disasters at World Heritage properties, as well as the need to devise strategies with clear indicators on how to mitigate the impacts of hazards on World Heritage properties. “By harnessing the rich experience of all workshop participants, we were able to develop a roadmap that will contribute to better protection and management of our invaluable natural and cultural World Heritage assets,” said Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia, Director-General of National Museums of Kenya.