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24 Jul, 2016

UNESCO: How Satellite Imagery Can Help Monitor Threatened Cultural Heritage

Singapore, Asia-Europe Museum Network media release, 9 July 2016 – A report published by UNESCO and UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) in late June illustrates how satelllite imagery analysis can help to assess potential damage to cultural heritage sites today.

The report, which includes examples from Iraq, Nepal, Syria and Yemen, covers the protection of cultural heritage both in conflict situations and during natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes, floods). The promoting organisations state that cultural heritage around the world suffers from intentional attacks, collateral damage, looting and the effects of natural disasters.

In this context, reaching affected sites and areas quickly to monitor the situation, plan for restoration and prevent further loss often proves very difficult. Building on the partnership established by UNESCO and UNITAR in 2014, satellite images developed through UNITAR’s UNOSAT programme have contributed to the work of UNESCO and heritage experts to evaluate and protect sites in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Nepal.

According to Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, “monitoring cultural heritage in areas affected by conflict or natural disasters, including through the use of satellite imagery, is a critical step to start planning for recovery.”

“These are good examples of how innovative applications of satellite imagery and other geo-spatial technologies make a difference in the way the United Nations supports its member states,” said Einar Bjorgo, Manager of UNOSAT.

For example, a “before and after” scenario elaborated in the report examines the archaeological site of Nimrud, Iraq.  Comparing UNOSAT satellite imagery from 18 April, 2015 to that of 7 March 2015, the extent and localization of damage and destruction inflicted by ISIS/Daesh upon the Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) becomes clear.

In Nepal, following the 25 April 2015 earthquake, satellite imagery helped map which historic temples and monuments of Kathmandu were damaged and to what extent, and which were still intact.  This allowed experts to better assess needs and plan reparation measures.

It is worth recalling that the protection of heritage at risk remains one core activity of UNESCO’s work, with recent campaigns including the #unite4heritage campaign.

For additional information and access to the report, please visit http://en.unesco.org/news/satellite-imagery-helping-monitor-cultural-heritage-sites-under-threat