Documentary heritage at risk in Asia-Pacific: UNESCO with Japanese Funds-in-Trust to develop training toolkit with international experts
Gathering for a three-day meeting, from 28 February through 3 March, to discuss disaster risk management (DRM) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) – along with training methodologies for memory institutions across Asia and the Pacific – 17 regional and international experts shared 19 case studies and disaster-related activities from over 12 countries of Asia and the Pacific and beyond. Each presentation provided an opportunity for participants to reflect on the different dimensions of DRM/DRR in the context of regional heritage, including risk assessment, collection policies, storage management, community involvement in emergency situations, digital preservation, and climate change, no less the need to better consider traditional or indigenous knowledge in relation to disaster preparedness.
Organized by UNESCO and supported by the Japanese Funds-in-Trust (JFIT-MEXT), the meeting opened with welcoming remarks by Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, Director of the UNESCO Bangkok Office, who cited the growing challenges faced by regional memory institutions, as well as the current strategies utilized by UNESCO to mitigate future risks. Mr Aoyagi noted:
The Asia-Pacific region boasts a wide variety of documentary heritage, ranging from ancient palm leaf manuscripts and stone inscriptions, to photographs, film, and many additional, comparatively more modern media. However, this heritage – whether ancient or modern – faces serious threats to its material integrity, including environmental disasters, human conflicts – and now even climate change (…) To achieve its goals, UNESCO seeks to integrate disaster risk reduction into the management and policies of memory institutions in the region, notably by enhancing local capacities in both preservation techniques and disaster preparedness.
The meeting’s many presentations and discussions over the three-day convocation of experts concluded with a range of practical recommendations which can be applied in different geographical contexts:
- The use of real-life situations and case studies to raise awareness and improve understanding among memory institutions concerning disasters and potential risks
- The importance of acknowledging local knowledge and conditions that are suitable for specific contexts, including under-resourced organizations, which are sometimes removed from what is considered ‘high technology’ protocols yet have better means for resilience
- The need to reconnect the fragmented aspects of DRM/DRR across sectors by narrowing the divide between physical and digital archives, built heritage and documentary heritage
- Embedding existing resources that provide methodologies, guidelines and templates to build professional capacity among memory institutions
- Improving storage management, collection policies, and accession registers before creating a DRM plan (or embedding them within a DRM strategy)
- Highlighting the various levels of communication between first responders, local communities and institutions, to ensure an effective response in cases of emergency
During the next phase of the project, a practical toolkit comprising training materials and case studies will be developed in keeping with the meeting’s findings and in close cooperation with the involved experts. The toolkit will be disseminated throughout the Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific (MOWCAP) network and other memory institutions later this year in conjunction with upcoming training sessions on disaster risk management for documentary heritage.
Main photo: The impact of the 2011 floods at the Thai Film Archive; Photo credit: Thai Film Archive