World Heritage Site Managers’ perceptions of Disaster-Risk Management governance

The International Day for Disaster Reduction, held every 13 October, celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to different types of emergencies and raising awareness about the importance of managing the risks that they face. This year, the day is all about governance. Good disaster risk governance can be measured in lives saved, reduced numbers of disaster-affected people and reduced economic losses.

Over the last decades, leading experts have begun warning us that our planet's fragile ecological balance could be dramatically and irremediably disrupted as a consequence of certain unchecked human activities. The potential impact of climate change on the World Heritage properties is a subject of growing concern, as an increasing number of climate-related hazards have already affected cultural and natural heritage, posing new challenges to conservators and heritage managers.

Since its launch in June 2019, the EU-funded project SHELTER, Sustainable Historic Environments hoListic reconstruction through Technological Enhancement & community-based Resilience, is working to develop a world-class operational knowledge framework, both data driven and community-based. It brings together the scientific community and heritage managers with the objective of working together to increase resilience, reduce vulnerability and promote better and safer reconstruction in historic areas.

To collect knowledge from the community, the University of Liège – LEMA research Group together with UNESCO, developed and circulated an electronic survey to World Heritage Site managers across Europe. The objective was to explore the perceptions and experiences of the World Heritage Site managers about disaster-risk management governance and associated tools.

Through the survey, 58 replies were collected across a variety of spatial scales and heritage site types: cultural, natural and mixed. Diverse hazards with different degrees of vulnerability were identified, as proof of every site experiencing unique hazards and requiring flexible disaster-risk management strategies and tools.

One of the most interesting findings regarding the perceptions and experiences collected for disaster-risk management governance was that less than half of the respondents declared to have an explicit disaster-risk management strategy. There is an opportunity for research projects such as SHELTER to work on an operational knowledge framework that is cross-scale, multidimensional, data driven and community-based for resilience enhancement and sustainable construction.

All the developments of the project are discussed and validated in 5 Open-Labs, representative of the main climatic and environmental challenges in Europe and different heritage’s typologies:

  • 3 Urban Open Labs: Ravenna (Italy), Sefeherizar (Turkey) and Dordrecht ( The Netherlands)
  • 2 Cross-border Open Labs: the Sava River Basin and the Baixa Limia-Serra.

The SHELTER Open Labs are representative case studies providing a framework for knowledge extraction and generation, citizen´s engagement, co-creation, evaluation and demonstration, long-term thinking and learning environments.

The International Sava River Basin Commission and UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe jointly coordinate the Sava River Basin Open Lab. Through this Lab, the SHELTER project is helping the collation of data on cultural heritage within flood hazard areas from the relevant national institutions of the Sava River basin, with the aim to integrate cultural heritage in Disaster-Risk Management policies and to develop a comprehensive regional methodology, which also includes post-disaster needs assessment for cultural heritage.