Disaster risk reduction and management must consider loss and damage to cultural heritage

Thursday 5th June 2014, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva – At its 26th meeting held in Fiji from 27 to 29 May, members of the Council of Pacific Arts and Culture (CPAC) recognised the importance of improving the assessment of cultural damage after a natural disaster.

Paula Holland, Resource Economist in SPC’s Applied Geoscience and Technology Division, told the Council that between 1983 and 2012, there were 615 natural hazard-related disaster events reported as causing harm in the Pacific.  She said that post-disaster assessments are commonly limited to evaluating the physical damage to buildings and infrastructure, the effects on tourism-related earnings, and changes in commercial earnings.  The impacts on cultural heritage are less well documented, as they focus on intangibles, such as loss of skills, destruction of irreplaceable history, and loss of biodiversity sites.

Ms Holland told Council members that it is vital to convince governments and development partners to invest in risk management for culture and heritage. In order to do this, evidence of the costs sustained must be available. A post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) currently under development is one way of achieving this. The methodology assesses the full economic impact of a disaster: the socioeconomic cost of the event in terms of monetary values (damage and losses), assessment of other damage or loss which cannot be monetised, and an economic assessment of social impacts.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), which serves as the secretariat for CPAC, proposes to establish a regional pool of experts in economic assessment of disasters. The initiative will target expertise in cultural, environmental and heritage assessments beyond physical damage, where practical.  As medium- to long-term national recovery planning is delivered by ministries of planning and finance, so it is necessary to persuade these ministries to mainstream cultural needs into national planning and budgets.

Meanwhile, people can identify, list and document lost and damaged cultural heritage, and publish this nationally, regionally and globally.

The Council agreed that identification of culture assessment experts would be useful for determining economic value of cultural assets for use after disasters.  Economic recovery requires monetary resources to rebuild, reduce future risks, and increase economic and community resilience, and for this, information on cultural damage, and the cost of this damage must be known.

The topic of assessing and putting a value on cultural damage in order to persuade governments to include it in their planning and budgeting is of particular relevance as governments and development partners from around the region gather in Suva for the 6th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Management.

The 26th meeting of the Council of Pacific Arts and Culture was held at Vale ni Bose Levu Vakaturga in Suva, Fiji. The meeting Chair was Guam (host of the 12thFestival of Pacific Arts in 2016) and the Vice-Chair was Hawai’i (proposed host of the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts in 2020). The Council discussed a wide range of issues relating to the Festival of Pacific Arts and promotion of the cultural sector in the region. The Council has 27 members and was formed in 1975 for the purpose of managing the Festival of Pacific Arts and promoting cultural development in the region.


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