Disaster Risk Reduction in UNESCO designated sites

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Floods in the Historic City of Ayutthaya, a World Heritage site in Thailand, 2011.

UNESCO-designated sites are often an important source of employment and income, through tourism-based activities and environmental goods and services. They may be partly or entirely exposed to natural hazards and extreme weather events, with potential impacts on the communities living in or near the sites, and on their livelihoods. Because of their high cultural and symbolic value, the impact of the loss or deterioration of a UNESCO-designated site can resonate accross the world.

UNESCO encourages the identification and monitoring of disaster risks in World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks, with a view on integrating, within these sites’ management plans, elements that support the mitigation of the effects of hazards and to monitor the positive impacts of the services provided by healthy ecosystems in Disaster Risk Reduction.

These iconic sites have tremendous potential as platforms to share knowledge on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Through their commitment to being learning sites for sustainable development in unique ecosystems around the world, Biosphere Reserves offer opportunities to understand the way changing environments impact communities. Global Geoparks play an active role in telling the story of past and active geological processes and the way they affect people. Many UNESCO-designated sites have community and schooleducational programmes to raise awareness of the source of natural hazards and ways to reduce their impact including disaster response strategies.

UNESCO assists Member States and its designated sites in strengthening livelihood capacities in DRR. UNESCO encourages the identification of risks, protection from different hazards, as well as fostering climate change resilience, and the preservation of UNESCO-designated sites and their communities. UNESCO continuously contributes to building capacity in DRR, developing innovative policy, tailoring management strategies, and recognizing the value of resilient protected area systems.

In 2015, UNESCO conducted a survey, addressed to UNESCO-designated site managers, to provide an overview of natural hazard distribution at UNESCO-designated sites.

According to the responses, 89% of all Biosphere Reserves, 82% of UNESCO Global Geoparks and 96% of World Heritage sites are potentially exposed to at least one type of natural hazard that may turn into a disaster and threaten a site’s integrity. This represents more than 1500 cultural and natural sites in 144 countries. In terms of population, it was estimated that more than 400 million inhabitants of local communities, living both in largest urban areas and in small island communities, are vulnerable to natural hazards at these sites.

UNESCO is currently conducting a second survey, aimed at site managers, to better assess the types of risks that they are facing and to identify good practices and knowledge gaps.

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