What’s the challenge?

There can be no sustainable development without Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) including Climate Change Adaptation (CCA). These rely on risk assessment that encompass understanding the hazard, exposure, vulnerabilities as well as capacities in all their complexities. Cultural heritage shapes our society and influences our actions before, during and after disasters, yet as Taschakert et al (2017:6) argue “assessments of disaster impacts largely ignores such experiences and understandings”. Incorporating heritage into risk informed decision making is therefore vital for building and maintaining resilience.

The video below covers recent efforts to build capacities in face of climate risk at the national and international level. In particular, the video highlights the importance of research and cooperation in the management of climate risk in a cultural heritage context.

The importance of risk assessment

Many cultural heritage sites are at risk of natural hazards and climate-change related such as, floods, landslides, droughts, wildfire, drought, extreme weather, and sea level rise among others. The impacts of natural hazards such as floods compounded with the uncertainty of climate change are difficult to identify and measure. To manage and reduce a specific risk, an assessment is necessary. Risk assessment is the judgement to combine present observation with past experiences to allow the prediction of future events and guide future actions. Since climate change is expected to intensify existing risk level, risk assessment should constitute the starting point for managing and eventually reducing future risks on cultural heritage.

The CRITICAL research team reviewed peer-reviewed academic papers published between 2007-2021 relating to risk assessment tools or frameworks and cultural heritage. There findings illustrate a serious issue with the incorporation of heritage within risk assessments.

Key messages from this analysis include:

  • Risk assessment for disaster management and CCA can take many forms. There is no standard risk assessment method for CCA or disaster management but rather a plethora of approaches from large-scale quantitative assessments using vulnerability functions to focussed qualitative narratives.
  • Exposure is critical for understanding risk, but not a sufficient analysis on its own.
  • Hazards are generally considered as single events although there is considerable debate about the effectiveness of this approach when multihazards are far more likely to occur.
  • Despite many of these papers discussing the importance of risk assessment and all its components (vulnerability, hazard, exposure, and capacity) the majority focus on just exposure or hazard modelling.
  • The tools developed and discussed in these papers identified the exposure of cultural heritage to hazards but not the degree of vulnerability or contribution towards capacity. Those that did discuss vulnerability did so largely in relation to exposure or focussed substantially on the structural vulnerabilities of the built environment.
  • Challenges predominately focus on a lack of data, tools and capacity.
  • Papers highlight a significant range of barriers to adaptation including a lack of understanding of vulnerability, a conventionally ‘top-down’ approach, lack of decision maker awareness, low level of communications between different stakeholders and a lack of policies or regulations.
  • The discourse across the literature is dominated by the drive to protect or conserve heritage, whilst only one paper reviewed discuss the lack of awareness of heritage benefits for adaptation. Whilst, only one other paper notes that lack of understanding between the threats to cultural heritage and wellbeing of the local communities.

PAR model for heritage risk management

The Pressure and Release (PAR) model in disaster management explained by Terry Cannon. The PAR model seeks to explain how the intersection between the process of generating vulnerability and natural hazards exposures creates and/or exacerbates social vulnerability (Blaikie et al. 1994). The video clip is from a CRITICAL project workshop ( July 2021).

This framework provides a way of understanding that vulnerability is multi-layered.  This framework was designed a number of years ago and describes that disasters are social constructs, and require both a natural hazard and also vulnerable people or ecosystems.


Further readings & resources

Blaikie et al, 1994, At Risk, Routledge