Strategy for Reducing Risks from Disasters


The UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe Venice (Italy), in cooperation with the Section on Earth Sciences and Geo-Hazards Risk Reduction, Natural Sciences Sector of UNESCO, the Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological Protection, CNR-IRPI of Italy and the Maltese National Commission for UNESCO, coordinated a Regional training workshop which brought together heritage professionals, site managers and emergency responders from South-East European and Mediterranean countries. The event was held from 14-19 November in the City of Valletta, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980.

The activity aimed at further implementing the 2007 World Heritage Committee’s ‘Strategy for Reducing Risks from Disasters at World Heritage Properties’ which encourages all States Parties to develop disaster risk management plans for the World Heritage properties in their respective countries. Furthermore, it also provided substantial follow up at the regional level to the new internationally endorsed ‘Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030’ which clearly highlights the importance of reducing disaster risk in cultural heritage sites.

Natural hazards, including the effects of climate change, are increasingly impacting people’s lives and our shared heritage – eliciting concern from international to local communities. Disasters do happen, and while many cannot be avoided, preparatory measures can mitigate or effectively reduce their impact. Furthermore, investing in risk preparedness can help to avoid high expenditure in the response and post-disaster recovery stage.

Participants from selected World Heritage sites and civil protection departments of Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Turkey gathered in the Campus of the University of Malta and were introduced to a comprehensive programme which provided both a scientific conceptual framework to understand and deal with natural hazards, in particular geo-hazards including fires, along with methodological tools enabling World Heritage site management authorities to incorporate Disaster Risk Reduction principles in their management systems.

More precisely, the training workshop was developed through a participatory methodology and the contribution of highly qualified international experts on such fields of expertise and upon the UNESCO World Heritage resource manual: ‘Managing Disaster Risks for World Heritage’ (2010). The activity was devised by capitalizing upon the experiences gained through other national/regional trainings on the matter organized by the UNESCO Regional Bureau.

An interdisciplinary and multinational team work was successfully set in place with a direct and synergic cooperation with the World Heritage site managers of Malta, in particular the management authorities of the capital city of Valletta and the Megalithic Temples of Malta, namely the Works and Infrastructure Department and Heritage Malta. The sites were used as learning cases for the entire group of participants, offering a diversified and excellent ground of work, encompassing both archaeological sites and historical cities. A dedicated field visit was also undertaken in the fortified town of Mdina, where appropriate solutions and a monitoring system were put in place to consolidate the town walls and prevent further collapses and rock falls.

Moreover, three buildings of Valletta were considered as testing grounds for the final outputs of the course: The Library, the Grand Master’s Palace, the Archeological museum and the temples of Hagar Quin and Mnajdra. For each of the sites, the set teams endeavored to assess fire and no fire related hazards exposure and their vulnerabilities, without neglecting their strengths in the form of the appropriate measures already in place for the suppression and detection of certain hazardous events. Trainees have then identified both direct and indirect impacts derived from the hazards at stake, focusing on those prevention and mitigation measures a Disaster Risk Management plan should include along with a dedicated Risk Assessment and Mitigation Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan.


The final outputs of the workshop were welcomed by Mr Salvatore Schirmo, Director of the Italian Institute of Culture at the Old Chancellery building and introduced by Mr Davide Poletto, Project Officer at the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, with the contribution of Mr. Christopher Marrion, Fire strategist, ICOMOS-USA representative, The closing session took place with the participation of prof. Henry Frendo, Mr Philip Cassar of the Maltese National Commission for UNESCO and Mr John Agius, Director of the CIP (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Directorate, as well as the Maltese World Heritage site managers. 

The course was timely conceived also at the national level, since Malta is undertaking a multirisk assessment of its assets in the entire archipelago, including its cultural heritage, while the capital city of Valletta is finalising its management plan in which Disaster Risk Reduction principles will be duly incorporated. Finally, the participation of a representative of the Civil Protection department of Malta at the workshop was also highly appreciated since it is only through the synergic cooperation among emergency responders and cultural managers and stakeholders that a resilient heritage and community can be sustained.   


The workshop involved specialists from the following institutions: UNESCO; Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological Protection, CNR-IRPI; Department of Chemical and Geological Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, UNIMORE; UNESCO Chair at the Institute of Disaster Mitigation for Urban Cultural Heritage, Ritsumeikan University (ICOMOS/ICORP); Marrion Fire & Risk Consulting; Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, CNR-ISAC; Department of Geosciences, University of Malta
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