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UNESCO’s report echoes the need for disaster risk reduction in safeguarding documentary heritage

There has been steady progress in the integration of disaster risk reduction into documentary heritage preservation actions, especially in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.

This is highlighted in a final report issued by UNESCO on its implementation of a project entitled “Preservation of documentary heritage through policy development and capacity building.”

Funded by Japan, the three-year project registered various degrees of progress in policy development intentions for the sustainable preservation of documentary heritage through disaster risk reduction. In particular, the report includes a strategic framework for UNESCO’s action on this issue.

The reported progress came to light through discussions held at the first and second editions of the Global Policy Forum held in 2018 and 2021 respectively. The Global Policy Forum is a gathering bringing together memory institutions, policy-makers and other stakeholders to analyse how documentary heritage can be better safeguarded by using various internationally agreed frameworks, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation concerning the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage including in digital form.

Implemented by the Memory of the World (MoW) Programme, the project activities targeted Small Islands and Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), as these groups are more likely to suffer from the impacts of natural and man-made disasters to documentary heritage holdings in libraries, archives, museums, and research institutions.

A key activity of the project was a pilot survey which revealed the lack of preparedness of memory institutions worldwide, with 40 out of 63 reporting that they had no emergency plan in the event of a disaster.

In response to this need, capacity building workshops were carried out to train experts to assess risks in memory institutions and help them to develop emergency plans to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from, disasters.

Several participants shared their perspectives on the workshops, as follows:

  • “This workshop allowed me to reinforce and update my knowledge and skills in terms of risk identification and especially in the handling of post-disaster documents, particularly of the flood type.” – Expert of a Library in Senegal.
  • “Participating has allowed me to direct actions to improve disaster risk management.”—Expert of a National Library in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • “As part of the response of disaster reduction and management protocols for documentary heritage, we have set up a national multidisciplinary committee to monitor emergency plans.” – Expert of a National Archive in Africa.

In all, over 120 memory institutions participated in the training sessions, while more than 60 memory institutions that participated in the pilot survey were provided with the guidelines to identify risks, hazards and develop emergency plans according to their needs.

Set up in 1992, the Memory of the World Programme serves as a vehicle for identifying documentary heritage of world significance, enabling its preservation, and promoting universal access to it.