18.11.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

Fostering Geopark Initiatives in Africa and the Arab States

Merzouga, South-East of Morocco

A conference in El Jadida, Marocco, will focus on aspiring geoparks in Africa and the Arab world and highlight the role of women and youth in the conservation of geoheritage.

Geoparks are areas of geological heritage with international significance and a sustainable development strategy, including community involvement.  They are not just about geology: the establishment of a Geopark aims to bring sustainability and real economic benefit to the local populations, usually through the development of sustainable tourism and other economic and cultural activities.

Today UNESCO gives its ad hoc support to national Geopark initiatives which are coordinated through the Global Geoparks Network (GGN). Together, UNESCO and the GGN develop models of best practice and set quality standards for territories that integrate the preservation of geological heritage into strategies for regional sustainable economic development. This young network of less than 10 years and 89 members in 27 countries is not yet evenly distributed throughout the world; most of the geoparks are in Europe and Asia, with growing interest in Africa and the Arab States.

The geological history of our planet from the Archaean Eon to the Quaternary Period is documented in fascinating African landscapes. Unique sedimentological, paleontological and petrographical features of exceptional quality and educational value are found throughout the continent; these deserve to be preserved and made accessible to the public. Yet there are no recognized Geoparks in Africa today, but there is an African Geoparks Network (AGN) that brings together various parties with an interest in fostering geoparks in the region.

The AGN was created in 2009, during a meeting of the African Association of Women in Geoscience. Its first International Conference is taking place in El Jadida, Morocco, on 21-28 November 2011.Fittingly, the Arabian Geoparks Network will be launched on this occasion. The creation of this new network gives testimony to the successful collaboration of these regional and global networks: the African Association of Women in Geoscience supported the creation of the African Geoparks Network, and today both are supporting the Arabian initiative.

These networks aim to identify and promote exceptional geological sites in their region and advise on the importance of their valorization and preservation in the framework of a local sustainable development strategy. This will be the focus of the First International Conference, organized under the theme ‘Aspiring Geoparks in the Africa and Arab World’. The conference will bring together stakeholders of geoconservation, geotourism and development to discuss various issues, such as the role of women and youth in the conservation of geoheritage; approaches to Geopark and geotourism development; stimulating contributions of different economic  and scientific  actors in Geopark and geotourism development; etc.

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