Protecting Heritage with Disaster Risk Management

26 October 2016

The Pacific Platform for Disaster Risk Management was held in Suva from 24 – 26 October 2016.  This annual conference jointly organized by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Pacific Community (SPC) with support from international and national partners represents a unique opportunity for governments and stakeholders to reaffirm their political commitments to the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

UNESCO in Apia organized a session on “Build Back Better (BBB) and Heritage Safeguarding Strategy for the wellbeing of community in the Pacific” on 26 October 2016.  The objective of this session was to enhance understanding of the BBB strategy in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction phases and in particular as it relates to the tangible, intangible and natural heritage safeguarding in Pacific island states.

Adi Meretui Ratunabuatua, Director of the Fiji Museum and Chair of the session, introduced the topic, explaining that disaster risk reduction (DRR) for cultural heritage and institutions had long been excluded from the main DRR framework but that, thanks to the efforts of the heritage community, the Sendai Framework for DRR 2015-2030 includes substantial reference to the importance of DRR of cultural heritage and institutions. She also added that the Sendai Framework underlined the importance of the integration of traditional/indigenous/local knowledge or intangible cultural heritage into DRR.

Mr Paula Cirikiyasawa of the Fiji Strategic Planning Office and Mr Maciusela Raitaukala presented a case study on the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) exercise conducted following Tropical Cyclone Winston that hit Fiji in February 2016, that included the culture sector, such as the impact on Levuka Historical Port Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as Navala village in Fiji.

Mr Shadrak Welegtabit of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) of Vanuatu presented an overview of the recovery following Tropical Cyclone Pam and El Nino. Wendy Christie, architect and advisor for the Vanuatu Culture Centre, presented a case study on the inventorying of traditional Nakamal - traditional meeting places – in Vanuatu following Tropical Cyclone Pam, outlining a broad overview of the benefits of traditional building skills to BBB, and emphasizing the potential for hybrid systems that utilize both traditional knowledge and contemporary building systems.

Dr Elise Huffer at the Pacific Community (SPC) shared her experience in coordinating the PDNA for the culture sector. Her presentation pointed to the need for further efforts to integrate culture in PDNA exercises and to establish effective coordination mechanisms between the authorities in charge of culture and the Fiji National Disaster Management Office (NDMO).   

Representing civil society, Blue Shield Pasifika (BSP), a regional network of professional organizations engaged in cultural heritage, museums, archives and libraries, made a presentation on progress in the implementation of its action plan with a view to developing a DRR strategy and strengthening the capacity of cultural institutions. Among the ongoing activities presented by BSP was the Exhibition on “Live to Tell” at the Fiji Museum.

The session concluded in agreeing on the key message that BBB should further integrate cultural dimensions and knowledge including in the areas of non-engineered and heritage architecture, intangible skills and environmental sustainability to bolster the resilience of infrastructure, societies and communities in the Pacific.