UAE: Abu Dhabi forum highlights importance of protecting heritage sites in war zones

UAE official says preservation of cultural heritage can assist in rebuilding a society in the aftermath of conflict


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak speaks at the Forum on Protecting Heritage Sites in Conflict Areas in Abu Dhabi on Monday. — Supplied photo
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak speaks at the Forum on Protecting Heritage Sites in Conflict Areas in Abu Dhabi on Monday. — Supplied photo

Published: Mon 6 Mar 2023, 9:05 PM

Top local and international officials have highlighted the importance of heritage sites and called on nations to work together to protect, preserve and rehabilitate cultural and natural heritage, especially in areas of war or civil unrest.

The Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT)– Abu Dhabi and the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (Aliph) organised a Forum on Protecting Heritage Sites in Conflict Areas, on Monday. Delivering the keynote address at the forum, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi and Vice-Chair of the Aliph Foundation, said: “There has been widespread destruction of monuments, museums and heritage sites in conflict areas. The preservation of cultural heritage can assist in rebuilding a society in the aftermath of conflict, and in some cases, it can be essential to economic revival, security and stability.

“It is important to rebuild heritage sites destroyed by war or acts of terrorism.”

Al Mubarak noted that the UAE understands the power of the past because history and heritage sets the stage for the present and for the future.

"We are committed to safeguarding and protecting the heritage in both tangible and intangible forms for the future generations,” he said.

The two-day forum has brought together members of Aliph Foundation's governance and representatives of its partners and is providing an opportunity to review the actions carried out since 2017 and to address the main challenges facing heritage protection in conflict zones.

The UAE is a founding member of the Aliph Foundation that funds the restoration and rehabilitation of humanity’s heritage sites in conflict zones across the world.

“Today, Aliph oversees the protection of cultural sites in underprivileged and warzone areas and in its six-year history, it has played a central role in financing and supporting over 180 projects in 31 countries on four continents,” said Al Mubarak.

“We are very proud of Aliph’s journey so far and hope to see even greater international mobilisation in this direction.”

Among the countries whose heritage sites have mostly be affected by conflicts or wars are Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and others.

Krista Pikkat, director, Culture and Emergency Entity, Culture Sector at Unesco, said it was important to preserve heritage for future generations in order to build a better world.

“In a world with growing disparities, we need to build bridges to bring people closer and celebrate diversity and pluralism," she said.

Valery Freland, executive director of Aliph, said historical landmarks, living heritage and natural sites enrich “our daily lives in countless ways, whether we experience them directly or through the medium of a connected device.”

He added: “Cultural diversity and creativity are natural drivers of innovation. In many ways, artists, creators and performers help us change our perspective on the world and rethink our environment. These are precious assets to respond to current global challenges including the climate change crisis.”

Freland also stressed the importance of rebuilding of heritage sites destroyed by war or acts of terrorism, for the value it holds in terms of rehabilitating the people living in those areas by means of creating job opportunities and by restoring their legacy leading to sustainable economic and social development.

The idea of a fund to restore, reconstruct and rehabilitate heritage of war-torn regions took root at a conference on heritage in danger held in Abu Dhabi in December 2016. Three months later Aliph was born in March 2017 at the initiative of the UAE and France with the support of Unesco. Since then, several other countries and private partners have joined the initiative and supported in the financing of nearly 200 projects in 31 countries on four continents.

Nearly $90 million was promised by international governments, private donors and foundations for Aliph’s next five-year cycle during the organisation’s second donors’ conference held at the Musee du Louvre in Paris during 2022.

Aliph’s three areas of intervention are: Preventive protection to limit the risks of destruction, emergency measures to ensure the security of heritage, and post-conflict actions to enable local populations to once again enjoy their cultural heritage.

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