UNESCO stresses that Efforts to protect Heritage must Also be in the Interests of the Local Population

Friday, December 1, 2023
UNESCO stresses that Efforts to protect Heritage must Also be in the Interests of the Local Population

For the first time, UNESCO has brought together experts specializing in both tangible and living heritage at an international conference co-organized with Italy. The conference culminated in the adoption of the Naples Appeal, which urges UNESCO Member States to work closely with local and indigenous populations in the development of heritage site management policies.

This week, Naples was the capital of culture, hosting an international UNESCO conference. For the first time, around a hundred tangible and living heritage experts from different regions of the world collaborated to align the policies implemented to protect sites and safeguard intangible cultural practices.

World Heritage sites are also often living sites, and they must remain so. In the 21st century, it is no longer possible to manage heritage sites without also considering the consequences for the people who live in them or near to them, and for the cultural practices they help keep alive. Taking the rights and aspirations of these people into account must be put at the heart of cultural policies.

This is the main purpose of UNESCO's initiative Revive the Spirit of Mosul in Iraq, where the Organization not only rebuilds monuments but also supports cultural and intellectual life, the arts and crafts. It’s also the motivation behind UNESCO's interventions in crisis situations, such as in Yemen, where young people are being trained in heritage rehabilitation, and in Ukraine, where emergency measures combine making sites safe, supporting artists and safeguarding cultural practices.

The conference culminated in the adoption of a Call to Actionaddressed to the 194 Member States of UNESCO. The call sets out eleven major commitments to ensure the long-term protection and transmission of heritage. It stresses adaptation to climate disruption, the introduction of sustainable tourism policies - as opposed to mass tourism – and, the need to involve and ensure the well-being of local communities and indigenous peoples living in and around heritage sites.

"Today, the main threat to heritage is climate disruption. This is particularly true on the shores of the Mediterranean, where almost all UNESCO World Heritage sites could be swallowed up by the sea by the end of the century. We must accelerate our efforts to protect biodiversity", stressed the Director-General, as COP28 opened in Dubai this Thursday.

But climate disruption is not the only threat. Mass tourism and urban pressures are also endangering both heritage sites and biodiversity, sometimes depriving local populations of their rights and even their identity.

To meet this challenge, over the past ten years UNESCO has updated the guidelines of the World Heritage Convention, which now state the need to involve local and indigenous populations in site management, and to ensure an improvement in their livelihoods.

UNESCO is also working with its partners to change the way tourists experience World Heritage sites - by encouraging slower travel, better knowledge of the sites and a deeper understanding of local cultures. The Organization has also developed tools and training programmes –with notable support from Italy – which enable site managers to anticipate and better manage the flow of visitors.

The Organization also aims to bring closer together the World Heritage Convention and the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage closer. 

This convergence – which already exists in practice on the ground – is the central focus of UNESCO's work, and it is this fundamental mission that we must carry out together help international legal instruments evolve.

In parallel to the conference, on Thursday Audrey Azoulay went to meet residents of the working-class district of Rione Sanita who lead cultural projects with a strong social impact. Gathered at the La Paranza cooperative, they document the history of the district, restoring historic houses and developing a form of tourism that is rooted in local life. In particular, the cooperative trains unemployed young people to organize tourist visits that celebrate the local people and introduce visitors to the district's shopkeepers and craftspeople.

The Director-General also visited the historic centre of Naples, which has been on the World Heritage List since 1995. The Mayor, Gaetano Manfredi, presented the plan to rehabilitate streets and monuments that is currently being implemented by the city, with the support of regional authorities and the Italian Ministry of Culture. Around ten projects have been carried out in recent years, and another ten will be completed by 2024.

UNESCO continues its work to protect and promote Naples' heritage in all its forms. Last May, the Organization included the Archives of the former Neapolitan public bank in the Memory of the World register, which records the world's documentary heritage. In 2017, the art of the Neapolitan pizzaiolo was inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Main Image :Audrey AzoulayUNESCO Director-General, Photo by Guido Caltabiano

Stephanie Cime

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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