By Dr Rohit Jigyasu, M.Arch., Dr. of Eng.
(Editors Note: The author, Dr. Rohit Jigyasu, and Dr. Suresh Suras SHRESTHA, Head, World Heritage Conservation Section, Department of Archaeology, Kathmandu, Nepal, were two international experts that participated in #SeriousAboutSendai: A Series of Programs about Cultural Heritage and Disaster Risk Reduction held in Washington, DC on March 9-11 on the occasion of the one year anniversary of the Sendai Framework )
Our rich cultural heritage including monuments, archaeological sites, vernacular housing, historic cities, cultural landscapes as well as cultural practices are at increasing risk from natural and human induced hazards such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, hurricanes, wild fires, arson and theft. Devastating impact on cultural heritage due to recent earthquake in Nepal in April and May 2015 has been a grim reminder of this global challenge. However, cultural heritage was not included in the overall agenda of disaster risk reduction only until recently, when following the 2015 Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), the UN General Assembly endorsed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. This new Framework calls for “t]he substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.”
The framework clearly recognizes culture as a key dimension of disaster risk reduction and the need to protect and draw on heritage as an asset for resilience through a number of important references. It calls for the following priorities for action that are specifically linked to cultural heritage:-
- “Systematically evaluate, record, share and publicly account for disaster losses and understand the economic, social, health, education, environmental and cultural heritage impacts, as appropriate, in the context of event-specific hazard-exposure and vulnerability information”
- “Protect or support the protection of cultural and collecting institutions and other sites of historical, cultural heritage and religious interest.”
To commemorate one year anniversary of the Sendai framework, US/ICOMOS in collaboration with National Conference of State Preservation Officers, Historic Preservation Education Foundation and National Park Service organized a series of programs about cultural heritage and disaster risk reduction on 9th and 10th March 2016. These programmes aimed at raising the awareness on Sendai framework and discussing its implications on policy and practice among the key stakeholders from cultural heritage sector in the US.
This would necessitate mainstreaming heritage concerns in the disaster management policies and at the same time include disaster risk reduction strategies in the management systems for cultural heritage. This would require greater coordination between heritage agencies and those in charge of disaster management and development and increased awareness and actions mobilized by local governments to reduce risk and build resilience. Moreover Critical cultural assets and infrastructures in cities need to be identified and actions taken to reduce risks. The challenge is to implement this policy at National and local levels, which requires considerable building of capacities at these levels and the setting up of the necessary institutional mechanisms, complemented by data collection and monitoring.