The Open Initiative: UNESCO Space for Heritage Network

A broad network using space technologies to assist developing countries in their goals to document, monitor and protect World Heritage sites.

© ESA-M. Pedoussaut
ESA/UNESCO Agreement signature on space technology to support the World Heritage Convention.

Space technologies, implemented by a large network of UNESCO space partners, are now assisting the famous World Heritage sites. For some of these sites the monitoring is extremely complex: the sites are very large (e.g. all natural heritage sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo), some are impossible to access (e.g. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda), for this purpose Earth Observation from space is a valuable added tool to assist heritage managers in these very complex monitoring tasks.

Created by UNESCO and the European Space Agency (ESA), the Open Initiative on the Use of Space Technologies to Support the World Heritage Convention aims to develop a framework of co-operation, open to all types of space partners, in order to assist developing countries in managing and protecting their natural and cultural heritage with the benefits of space technologies. Its objective is to use space technologies and the data they can provide to monitor these sites, thus allowing local authorities to identify potential threats, such as land use changes that could place the sites in danger, in time for them to elaborate and implement mitigation strategies.

© Space Imaging, Geoeye
GeoEye's IKONOS satellite took this image of Machu Picchu in September 2003.

It was in 2001 that ESA and UNESCO began working on an international call to all space agencies, space research institutions and the space private sector, to assist the World Heritage Convention. On 18 June 2003, at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget (France), UNESCO and ESA signed an agreement to encourage the use of Earth observation satellites to monitor cultural and natural World Heritage sites. This Agreement sealed their commitment to create an Open Initiative on the Use of Space Technologies to Support the World Heritage Convention.

The Open Initiative has today over 50 space partners mainly space agencies, space research universities and private sector space companies.

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