Roundup: European Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction provides insights on cultural heritage protection

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-24 04:55:25|Editor: yan
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ROME, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- As much as human settlements or infrastructure, cultural heritage is often among the first "victims" of disasters.

So-called unmovable assets -- like historical buildings and archaeological sites -- and movable heritage such as artefacts, ancient books, archives represent a unique resource for each society in terms of community identity and economic value.

Yet, they are also among the most vulnerable ones, and require a considerably high-level of knowledge and technical skill to be protected or recovered in case of calamity.

With this focus in mind, experts and officials engaged in experience exchanges at the 2018 European Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction being held here on Nov. 21-23.

Organized by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the event drew ministers, civil protection directors, and experts from 55 countries in Europe, Central Asia and Caucasus.

"The heritage plays a relevant role in keeping communities together," the UNISDR wrote in a brief introduction to a working session devoted to the topic.

"We must plan how best to reduce the risk to the heritage in our care, and act on those plans. This is in the limelight of 2018 being the European Year of Cultural Heritage."

On behalf of the conference host, Italian Undersecretary for the Culture Ministry Gianluca Vacca briefed the meeting about Italy's experience.

"Our heritage is extraordinary for wealth, relevance, and distribution, but it is also very delicate, and the more so because of the high seismicity of Italy," he explained.

Yet, the official stressed heritage was also considered a strategic asset for the country's productive and economic system, and thus acted as a major trigger for the development of new strategies.

Indeed, the Italian civil protection system proved quite effective in the sequence of four big quakes that hit the country's central regions between August 2016 and January 2017.

Cultural heritage was badly affected, and managing such emergency was made even more difficult by the fact that the area involved was 70 kilometers in length and 30 kilometers in width.

Rescue teams had two immediate actions to undertake with regard to heritage, according to Director General of the Italian Department of Civil Protection Mauro Dolce.

"One immediate priority was assessing the damages suffered by unmovable assets, according to specific procedures and tools, and their stability in the short time," he said.

"The second consisted in displacing and sheltering mobile heritage, like artworks and archives... all of them needed to be sheltered in a suitable storage condition."

After two years, according to data published by the Culture Ministry, the heritage recovered from those areas comprised 22,131 artworks, 5,346 linear metres of archives, 15,229 books, and about 1,670 historical buildings.

"A crucial factor that has allowed us, I think, to be effective in this task was the preparedness of our civil protection system overall," Dolce told Xinhua.

In general terms, the official explained to Xinhua, the department makes periodic practice drills involving all the main stakeholders in the civil protection management.

As for the cultural heritage specifically, the Civil Protection was in constant exchange with the Culture Ministry.

"In fact, we had a national directive for cultural heritage emergency management in 2015, and we have discussed it (with the ministry) and contributed to the drafting for half a year," he said.

Jean-Claude Eude, director general of French Loire River Basin Authority, provided a further perspective in terms of tackling risks concerning cultural heritage.

In management terms, the expert said, the stress was put "on science-based risk assessment strategy."

Yet, behavioural insights also proved useful in their experience, in order to help policymakers design how prepare for and respond to disasters.

"Traditional policies, such as regulations or incentives, can backfire, while non-standard actions such as nudging can be effective in influencing behaviours," Eude told the meeting.

With this approach, the Loire Basin entity -- which gathers over 50 regional and local authorities -- has addressed the vulnerability of cultural heritage to flooding.

"It has seemed advisable to raise the awareness of heritage operators in area vulnerable to flooding and their interest in taking action, and then to propose immediately technical solutions," Eude said.

A comprehensive river basin action plan for reducing cultural heritage vulnerability was designed, and was now being implemented.

Within such framework, the authority made three steps, the first of which was "creating a favourable environment" with information campaigns and trainings.

"The second step was fostering the establishment of a significant number of individual vulnerability assessments of cultural assets; and the third was making easier for stakeholders to take action and reduce their vulnerability on voluntary basis," Eude explained.