Published on Sustainable Cities

Why cultural heritage matters for urban resilience

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Across the disaster risk management community, there is growing recognition that protecting cultural heritage is fundamental to urban resilience. Traditional knowledge embedded in cultural heritage, such as historical evacuation routes or shelters, can help societies cope with natural hazards. Moreover, when these hazards disrupt cultural heritage sites, such as museums, monuments and places of worship, they often cause irreparable damage to people’s cultures, identities and livelihoods.

A case in point is last year’s devastating earthquake in central Mexico, which damaged over 1,500 historic buildings, including the 250-year-old Church of Santa Prisca, one of the country’s grandest and most beloved churches. Mexico is one of a number of countries that have made the protection of cultural heritage sites a top priority, including through initiatives aimed at reducing disaster risk in Mexico City’s historic center.”

On the sidelines of the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, which was aptly held in Mexico City, Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit for the Culture Sector of UNESCO, made the case that much more needs to be done to put cultural heritage front and center in the disaster risk management agenda.

  “[Cultural heritage] has been considered as a secondary issue, as a luxury. But we have seen…that when there is a disaster, when there is a trauma, people really need to hold on to their cultural landmarks, their symbols,” Boccardi explained. “Heritage is the glue that binds people together as a community.”

In this video interview from the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, Mr. Boccardi shares his thoughts on how disaster risk management practitioners can contribute to protecting cultural heritage and, at the same time, leverage these efforts toward the broader goal of building more resilient communities.

The 2018 Understanding Risk Forum was hosted by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank. In nearly a dozen countries around the world, GFDRR is providing technical assistance to preserve and promote resilient cultural heritage with the support of the Japan-World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management (DRM).

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Barbara Minguez Garcia

Disaster Risk Management and Cultural Heritage Consultant

Lorenzo Piccio

Knowledge Management and Communications Consultant, GFDRR

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