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Workshop on Heritage/Environmental Impact Assessments for the Pacific Island States
Author:Simone RICCA  PublishDate:2018-03-14  Hits:641

opening ceremony (4)_meitu_1

 

The Workshop on Heritage/Environmental Impact Assessments for the Pacific Island States, organised by WHITRAP and UNESCO World Heritage Centre, was held in the Fiji Islands from November 20th to 28th, 2017. This regional capacity-building program was supported by the UNESCO Advisory Bodies, the Ministry of Education of Fiji, and the Pacific Heritage Hub, and was sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. It targeted professionals involved in cultural and/or natural heritage conservation and management, and was attended by 24 participants from 13 Pacific States (Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu).

 

The workshop took place at two locations: in the Fiji capital Suva, where the official opening was notably held with the participation of Mr. Iowane TIKO, Permanent Secretary of the Ministryof Education, Heritage and Arts of Fiji, and in the island of Ovalau, where the World Heritage property of Levuka Historical Port Town is located.

 

The support and commitment of the Department of Heritage and Arts of the Fiji Ministry of Education throughout the planning and implementation phases of the workshop, and the extraordinary hospitality of Fijian colleagues, typical of Pacific culture, made this workshop a unique and very enriching experience for WHITRAP and for all the participants. The technical discussions amongst resource persons, local and national authorities, UNESCO World Heritage Centre representatives, and participants from the Pacific countries, greatly contributed to the success of the program, and gave a comprehensive overview of the unique challenges faced by the Pacific region.

 

The main aim of this programme was to provide professionals in the Pacific States with knowledge necessary for safeguarding their natural and cultural heritage, in line with the Pacific World Heritage Action Plan 2016–2020 and the results of the recent State of Conservation reports from the region. The course addressed both natural and cultural heritage in order to respond to the specific needs and context of the Pacific States, providing participants with a shared set of concepts bridging the separation between nature and culture in heritage preservation.

 

The core of the teaching curriculum was developed for WHITRAP by the invaluable expertise and knowledge of Ms. Carolina CASTELLANOS (ICOMOS) and by Ms. Maria MUAVESI (IUCN). Vice-Director of  WHITRAP Shanghai, Dr. Simone RICCA, contributed to the theoretical lectures, and to the elaboration and discussion of practical exercises.        

 

The ten-day workshop introduced internationally defined concepts and methodologies, providing background knowledge on heritage conservation, including basic principles and the working mechanisms of the ‘World Heritage System’ and of the ‘World Heritage Convention’. During the days spent in Levuka, the focus was placed on the presentation of the ‘Environmental and Heritage Impact Assessments’ methodologies. With international examples, practical exercises on site, and a review of the existing set of resources (which were made available to all participants in digital format). The workshop also contributed to developing the exchange of experiences and information amongst participants and institutions from the Pacific active in similar cultural and natural environments, and facing similar challenges for their preservation.

 

The course combined both theory and practice through lectures, case studies, and practical exercises. The participants had the opportunity to present the sites they are directly involved with (World Heritage properties, properties on Tentative Lists, or national heritage sites) to the resource persons and to their colleagues, and to discuss the management systems currently applied in their home countries.

 

Introductory lectures are centred on building the participants’ theoretical foundations about the background and methodology of HIA, providing base knowledge on concepts such as Outstanding Universal Value and World Heritage monitoring processes. They provide a rapid review of the two principal heritage-safeguarding tools, Management Planning and Impact Assessments (both Environmental and Heritage), pointing out similarities and specificities in their methodologies and processes.

 

The course then presented the HIA and EIA tools — which are being increasingly demanded in the region by the World Heritage Committee for evaluating and mitigating the potential impacts of development projects on the values of heritage properties — to verify how they can be integrated within national heritage safeguarding strategies to respond to the specific needs and context of Pacific Small Islands Developing States (SIDS).

 

The workshop specially emphasised the ways in which heritage professionals can accurately identify the values and attributes of heritage sites, and effectively safeguard them in the face of, for instance, uncontrolled development, intensified tourism or climate change. To develop understanding of theoretical concepts, the participants were divided into four groups to carry out two practical exercises.

 

The group work on the site of Levuka was an essential component of the workshop and was completed by lectures delivered by local experts presenting general information about Levuka Historic Port Town, its significance for the local community, and its existing property conservation and management mechanisms. Fijian experts supported each group during the field visits to improve the understanding of the site’s cultural and natural background, and to facilitate data collection and interaction with the residents. The generosity of the Fijian hosts also permitted the organisation of a series of tours through the island of Ovalau, and evening dinners in nearby traditional villages which not only enhanced the participants’ experience in Levuka, but also provided important additional information about local culture and heritage.

 

The first field exercise concerned the identification of the ’attributes’ that convey the significance of Levuka Historical Port Town, and of the current challenges faced in terms of conservation and management. Considering the culture to nature linkages typical in the Pacific, participants were asked to focus not only on the inscribed World Heritage property but also to take into account its buffer zone and its wider setting. During the presentations and the following discussions, the proposed lists of attributes, and the matrix of key issues/challenges identified for its conservation and management, were correlated with preliminary recommendations.

 

The second exercise proposed a series of ’theoretical’ development projects which could potentially have an impact on World Heritage property Levuka Historical Port Town and/or on its buffer zone and wider setting. These projects notably concerned tourism development, transportation infrastructure and industrial/urban development. The participants developed a matrix of each proposed project, identifying their potential impact, undertook an impact assessment, and drew preliminary conclusions and recommendations which were discussed during the final workshop session in Suva.

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