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“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
 

Ponto-cho mapIt 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.

How can we protect these special places and traditions from the threat of natural hazards?

Three countries show why culture matters for post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction and recovery

Sameh Wahba's picture
In Mali, residents of Timbuktu take part in the maintenance of the Djingareyber Mosque, a World Heritage Site, applying traditional repair techniques. (Tiecoura Ndaou / UN Photo)
In Mali, residents of Timbuktu take part in the maintenance of the Djingareyber Mosque, a World Heritage Site, applying traditional repair techniques. (Tiecoura Ndaou / UN Photo)

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.

Cultural heritage and sustainable tourism: drivers of poverty reduction and shared prosperity

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Old City of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia. (Photo by Justin Smith / Flickr CC)
Old City of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia. (Photo: Justin Smith / Flickr CC)

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:

Innovating with the past: How to create resilience through heritage

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Also available in: 日本語
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo by Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo: Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Bosai (防災) means disaster risk reduction or management, and it became our word of reference. As a group of professionals from disaster risk and cultural heritage management backgrounds visiting Japan, we used it in activities, as nicknames, and shouted in unison every time a group photo was taken. It represents a lesson that Japan has learned very well. Disasters have been part of the Japanese experience since the beginning of history. The Kobe Earthquake in 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 are just two recent examples of disasters from which Japan recovered under the motto “build back better.” On November 5 we will be marking the World Tsunami Awareness Day, and I cannot think of a better word than Bosai to capture its significance.

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?