Geospatial information to the rescue of cultural heritage protection in conflicts and disasters
December 2011, Seoul, Republic of Korea - The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) organised its first international conference in Seoul in December 2011 around the theme of "Protecting the World's Cultural Heritage in Times of Change: Emergency, Preparedness and Response". The meeting was co-hosted by the National Museum of Korea and by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The Conference adopted the Seoul Declaration on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Emergency Situations, emphasizing the need for cross-sectorial collaboration in the area of the protection of cultural heritage in emergency situations.
UNOSAT was invited to update international cultural heritage professionals, museums directors, as well as experts from the military, humanitarian aid and meteorological organisations, on the use of advanced GIS and satellite analysis to help locate, monitor and protect valuable cultural heritage in times of crisis and disasters. Over the years and in several crises, a number of UNOSAT maps and analyses have been used by cultural heritage experts to support assessment missions and protection operations. Although these products were not produced by UNOSAT for this specific use, they have been recognized as useful for ICOM’s Disaster Relief Task Force in crises and disasters in Lebanon, Libya, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Haiti, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. Francesco Pisano of UNOSAT says “in a way we have been working together for years already without a direct official cooperation link; what we are planning now will bring the use of geospatial information to a higher level in this important domain of emergency response”.
The Blue Shield is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. It is the symbol specified in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict for marking cultural sites to give them protection from attack in the event of armed conflict. It is also the name of an the international committee set up in 1996 to work to protect the world's cultural heritage threatened by war, man-made and natural disasters.
The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) gathers a unique body of expertise, it is international, independent and professional and it mission is to work for the protection of the world's cultural heritage by co-ordinating preparations to meet and respond to emergency situations.
UNOSAT and ICBS are discussing ways to develop joint research and operations to respond to crises but also to anticipate them by developing prevention and data preparedness methods. The text of the Seoul Declaration takes stock of the potential of geospatial technology and provides a good basis for further engagement by UNOSAT in the area of cultural heritage protection. Referring to the future, Julien Anfruns, president of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and director general of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), said “from now on, we will need to focus on gathering adequate resources to protect the world’s heritage. We already have the knowledge and access to the technical and human resources. However, there is a need for adapted fundraising mechanisms in order to extend our action and make this much-needed international public service mission a reality”.
Photos: (top) South Korean Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik addressing the Conference on the opening day at the National Museum of Korea, courtesy of Yonhap Press Agency, Korea; (middle) detail of a UNOSAT analysis of damage assessment in cultural sites in a conflict area; (bottom) the symbol of the Blue Shield created in 1954.