In response to the devastating flash floods in Uttarakhand, India, which resulted in significant damage to the cultural heritage of the region, ICOMOS India, in partnership with UNESCO New Delhi, began a pilot project to assess the damage in the area and determine priorities for salvage and recovery. On 25 July 2013, fourteen architecture and engineering students came together at a workshop to develop a tool kit for field workers engaged in damage assessment. Later, over a period of eight days, these heritage volunteers conducted field surveys of movable and immovable cultural heritage in the flood affected region where they examined cultural objects, temples, vernacular residences and sacred landscapes.
Working at thirty different sites, the volunteers recorded the damage and identified the challenges for recovery of the area’s cultural heritage. During the debriefing session at UNESCO New Delhi, the students spoke about all that they had learnt, and were extremely eager to participate in future field surveys and expand the volunteer base. The greatest issue facing the region, they observed, was unplanned and uncontrolled development, which has serious implications for the integrity and maintenance of heritage resources in the area. To help governmental and non governmental agencies work better together, the data collected during this mission is being uploaded onto crowd sourcing crisis mapping software that will serve as an online platform for assessing damage, sharing information, and facilitating salvage and recovery. The information will also be available in printed form, thus serving as a resource bank to document the initiative.
Climate change and disaster risk reduction
Climate change is likely to have varying impacts on each and every one of us. There is scientific evidence of climate change, globally manifested through a rise in temperature levels and an increase in the incidence of extreme climatic events in the form of recurring droughts and floods, melting glaciers, and sea-level rise, among others. The recent disaster in Uttarakhand also raised questions on the inter connectedness between disasters and climate change.
To explore this link, UNESCO New Delhi in association with Development Alternatives organized a one-day workshop on “Regional Priorities for Knowledge Management and Strategy for Action: South Asia on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction” on 26 June 2013 in New Delhi. The workshop discussed knowledge management perspectives on disaster preparedness and risk reduction strategies. It brought together more than 120 various stakeholders from research, grassroots and policy working on natural disasters and climate change communities. The discussions included the role of scientific inquiry and tools to facilitate policy formulation, as well as prospects for better collaboration between various stakeholders.
One of the key points that emerged was that climate change adaptation and disaster management strategies must move up on the political agenda, not as an environmental issue alone, but recognised as a challenge to human development and economic growth. It was strongly emphasized that in order to mainstream climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, national governments should strengthen knowledge management perspectives in their national policies. These need to be supported with adequate institutional capacities, such as legal frameworks, guidelines, structures, financial incentives and mechanisms. Finally, the participants highlighted the need to strengthen risk communication strategies between national experts/ agencies and local communities.