And the intricate beauty and uniqueness of its traditional architecture are known around the world.
As such, and is embedded in all its national development policies.
In this context, the Royal Government of Bhutan has made it a priority to sustain both tangible and intangible aspects of its culture with dedicated offices under the Department of Culture of Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MOHCA), which work closely with local governments.
This work is critical as Bhutan’s monuments are vulnerable.
The 2009 and 2011 earthquakes damaged hundreds of historic monasteries and fortresses known as dzongs, including the Lhuntse and Trashigang Dzongs (2009) and the Paro Tadzong (2011).
Also, fires triggered some of the worst disasters in Bhutan’s cultural history.
The famous Paro Taktshang, nicknamed the Tiger’s Nest and the Wangduephodrang Dzong were burnt down in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
One of the distinctive characteristics of the Dzongs of Bhutan is their strategic location.
It is 7:45 p.m. in Ponto-cho, the historic narrow alley at the core of the Japanese city of Kyoto. Close to the Kaburenjo Theater – where still today Geikos and Maikos (Kyoto Geishas) practice their dances and performances – the traditional adjoining buildings with restaurants and shops are full of guests. Local people, tourists, students… On this Saturday in mid-April, the warm weather brings a lot of people to the streets nearby.
At 7:46 p.m., a M 5.1 earthquake strikes. Seven seconds of swaying. It doesn’t cause major damage, but it is enough to spread panic among a group of tourists. Screams, shoving, confusion… drinks spill, candles fall, people rush.
At 7:49 p.m., the fire starts spreading through the old wooden structures, also threatening the historic theater. Access is difficult due to the narrow streets and panicking crowd.
What happens next?
It could be a fire in the Ponto-cho traditional alley. It could be an earthquake shaking the historic center of Kathmandu (Nepal), the archaeological site of Bagan (Myanmar), or the historic town of Amatrice (Italy). It could be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, blasting sites with rain, flooding, and gale-force winds.
Cultural heritage assets around the world are at risk. They are often vulnerable due to their age, as well as previous interventions and restorations made without disaster risk or overall site stability in mind. Heritage sites reflect legacies, traditions, and identities. With all this, they carry a large cultural and emotional value of what could be lost – certainly beyond the traditional calculus of economic losses.
In many cases, it is not possible or advisable to conduct reconstruction on cultural heritage sites post-disaster. Therefore, the essence and soul of a cultural heritage site is at risk of being lost forever, making preparedness and preservation even more critical.
Imagine a city destroyed by a natural disaster, killing people and wiping away infrastructure. For instance, an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010, killing over 200,000 people and displacing around 895,000.
Even worse, imagine a city demolished by a manmade disaster: conflict. Recent examples include Aleppo, Syria and Kabul, Afghanistan. Here conflict goes far beyond violence to include erasing a place’s culture, heritage, landmarks, and its traditions.
Now, imagine the enormous undertaking required to rebuild these places and the many stakeholders that need to be brought together. It would take an integrated, holistic approach to restore torn heritage, infrastructure, and service delivery systems after they have been wiped out by a natural or manmade disaster. Culture needs to underpin such a rebuilding approach.
Today, we celebrate the International Day for Monuments and Sites. This year, the day focuses on Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Tourism, which underlines the important linkage between culture and cities: Culture, identity, and a people-centered approach are central to building the urban future we want and ensuring sustainable urban development.
In relation to the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, and in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda this day also presents a unique opportunity to celebrate the long-standing partnership between the World Bank and UNESCO in the area of culture and sustainable development.
The recently-launched UNESCO Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Urban Development titled Culture: Urban Future has brought to the forefront of the global discussion the critical role that culture should play in achieving sustainable urbanization, especially over the coming years when one billion people are expected to move to cities by 2030. Culture does not necessarily come in the list of Top 10 issues for sustainable urban development, but it is.
Culture is an essential component of the safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable urban settlements everybody wants to live in. Culture should be at the core of new approaches for people-centered cities, quality urban environments and integrated policy-making.
Specifically, culture contributes to urban development in four aspects. All of them linked to poverty eradication and shared prosperity in a sustainable manner:
China has seen a booming tourism industry during the last few decades, thanks to a fast-developing economy and growing disposable personal income. , and 8.4% of the country’s total employment. Not surprisingly, cultural heritage sites were among the most popular tourist destinations.
But beyond the well-known Great Wall and Forbidden City, many cultural heritage sites are located in the poorer, inland cities and provinces of the country. If managed sustainably, —especially ethnic minorities, youth, and women—find jobs, grow incomes, and improve livelihoods.
“[Sustainable tourism] is not only the conservation of the cultural assets that are very important for the next generations to come, but, also, it’s the infrastructure upgrading, it’s the housing upgrading, and it is the social inclusion to really preserve the ethnic minorities’ culture and values – it is an interesting cultural package that is very valuable for countries around the world,” says Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, a Senior Director of the World Bank.
To help reduce poverty and inequality in China’s lagging regions, —with the Bank’s largest program of this kind operating around 20 projects across the country. These projects have supported local economic development driven by cultural tourism.
“Over the years, the program has helped conserve over 40 cultural heritage sites, and over 30 historic urban neighborhoods, towns, and villages,” according to Judy Jia, a Beijing-based Urban Analyst.
Watch a video to learn from Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Judy Jia how cultural heritage and sustainable tourism can promote inclusive growth and boost shared prosperity in China, and what other countries can learn from this experience.
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In an environment rife with natural disasters, Japan recognizes that climate change is a tangible reality that increases the intensity and frequency of these disasters. The country knows very well the threat they pose not only to its people, economy, or infrastructure, but also to its cultural heritage.
Intangible culture is equally important, especially helping people in the recovery process and ensuring that we learn from the past. Take for instance the example of ancient local knowledge used around the world, and ask yourself: are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?
Embracing cultural diversity, especially through the preservation of cultural heritage assets, also brings tangible economic benefits. Preserving or repurposing historic landmarks in downtown cores, for instance, can make cities more vibrant, attract new firms, and foster job creation. In addition, the preservation of cultural assets plays a key part in supporting sustainable tourism, a sector that has significant potential for reducing poverty in both urban and rural settings.
On this World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, Ede Ijjasz and Guido Licciardi tell us more about the role of culture and its importance to the World Bank's mission.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
During the Ganesh Festival in India, tons of idols representing the elephant-headed god are immersed in the ocean. The paint and other elements used for the making of these idols get blended in the water and pollute and kill the marine life of the bay.
SPROUTS Environment Trust, an environmental NGO in India came up with a very original solution to this problem and their initiative took off:
A few weeks ago, John O’Brien, the chief strategist for Ireland’s Industrial Development Agency, was at The World Bank, Washington DC to address an event on the role of cultural heritage and historic cities in Local Economic Development. The theme of the event was creating jobs by supporting historic cities and cultural heritage. Urban Sector Manager Abha Joshi-Ghani began the day’s session by underlining the significance of cultural heritage in city development: “We have started to look at cities as drivers of entrepreneurship and innovation. It is important to understand how cities attract skilled people and industries to create jobs and what role they play in economic growth. Therefore it is very helpful to find linkages between cultural heritage assets and job creation.”