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Cultural Officials Seek to Safeguard Islamic Heritage Sites Against Climate Change

Climate change threatens the Islamic world’s antiquities and heritage sites, cultural officials who are seeking to establish a fund to protect them told a recent gathering at the COP27 Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

At the session, the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ICESCO) announced that it had launched an initiative to create a fund to combat the impact of climate change on heritage sites. Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Unesco, the United Nations cultural agency, are cooperating in the initiative.

Salim bin Mohammed Al-Malik, director general of ICESCO, said that “the initiative aims to protect heritage sites in the Islamic world from the effects of climate change by conducting research to identify the most threatened areas” and start taking measures to safeguard them.

The next conference of Arab environment ministers, to be held in Jeddah early next year, will review the details of the initiative.

Al-Malik told Al-Fanar Media that ICESCO has not yet allocated a budget for the fund, but it has contacted donors who have said they wanted to help. He said the donors’ names and the amount of funding would be announced early next year.

Al-Malik said the fund would not only support research, it would also pay to repair heritage sites that have already been damaged.

Sites Threatened by Climate Change

On the last International Day for Monuments and Sites, Unesco warned that “one in three natural sites and one in six cultural heritage sites are currently threatened” by climate-change related effects and disasters.

“The initiative aims to protect heritage sites in the Islamic world from the effects of climate change by conducting research to identify the most threatened areas” and start taking measures to safeguard them.

Salim bin Mohammed Al-Malik, director general of ICESCO.

Speaking at the same session, Ayman Ashour, Egypt’s minister of higher education, said that studies conducted by his country’s universities had confirmed that climate change was affecting Egyptian antiquities and that more research was needed to plan how to deal with these effects.

“There is no single solution that suits the various antiquities,” he added. “Methods of maintenance and preservation of heritage sites are determined according to the risk severity, magnitude, and other factors.”

Ashour called for a classification of Egyptian heritage sites threatened by climate change. “We need a map of the most affected and threatened sites, to and to take proactive measures to protect Egypt’s heritage areas,” he said.

Mohamed Bayoumi, the assistant resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Egypt, said that UNDP had monitored the effects of climate change on antiquities, including rising sea levels, to heritage areas such as Qaitbay Citadel in Alexandria. “Severe dust storms and rains contribute to the erosion of antiquities,” he said. “High temperatures also negatively affect building materials in archaeological sites.”

Bayoumi explained that measures already taken to protect antiquities from such threats included breakwaters and seawalls.

Green Transitions at Museums

At the same time, Bayoumi said, museums and heritage areas should be going green by transitioning to power from renewable energy sources, installing protective lighting around monuments, and allowing only environmentally friendly cars near them.

Threats to heritage sites include rising sea levels, erosion from severe dust storms and rains worsened by global warming, and the effects of high temperatures on building materials, said Mohamed Bayoumi, of the United Nations Development Programme in Egypt.

He cited a Japanese-funded project to use solar energy in the recently opened Sharm El-Sheikh Museum. “We want this to be a starting point for all museums, so they adopt green transition initiatives and operate with clean energy,” he said. 

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, spoke about the Egyptian government’s project to protect some coastal areas from rising sea levels by building breakwaters. 

“The impact of climate change extends to effects that have not yet been discovered,” he added. “The antiquities studied so far do not exceed 40 percent of what is needed. The antiquities that have not been researched face the same threats and need measures taken to protect them.”

Read more about the COP27 climate summit and global climate concerns in Climate and Environment, an archive of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on these topics.



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