International move to protect heritage sites

By on 21 July, 2015

Temple of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra, Syria. The occupation of the ancient Roman city of Palmyra by the Islamic State in May this year led to international concern over heritage sites. Image: Bernard Gagnon


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) have signed an agreement to protect cultural and natural heritage sites through geospatial technologies. It was signed at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany, and will be delivered through UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT).

The strategic partnership will enable the organisations to work together during conflict situations and following natural disasters, sharing their respective expertise, and collaborating on prevention and capacity development.

The moves comes with the recognition that satellite imagery can help the international community to understand the situation on the ground and plan emergency measures. For example, a recently-published report by UNITAR-UNOSAT on cultural heritage sites in Syria, such as that at Palmyra (pictured), revealed the extent of damage to cultural heritage and confirmed information obtained through unofficial sources.

Other geospatial technologies that may prove useful include the use of crowd-sourcing app UN-ASIGN, which was recently used following the recent Nepal earthquake, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) used for recording tasks and assessing damage. UNESCO and UNITAR-UNOSAT will jointly explore new and innovative solutions that can further contribute to improved management and protection of cultural heritage sites.

UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, Mr. Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán outlined the agreement’s importance: “strategic importance of this new partnership as an example of the type of cooperation UNESCO should establish with sister UN Agencies.”

“UNOSAT and UNESCO have complementary capacities that can considerably enhance UNESCO’s ability to protect heritage in emergency situations.”


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