The European Union project called PROCULTHER (Protecting Cultural Heritage from the Consequences of Disasters) aims to protect cultural heritage from the consequences of disasters.
The project is a collaborative effort between Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). It is implemented within the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) initiative and co-funded by the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO).
The primary objectives of PROCULTHER include (a) developing common European rules, shared procedures, and operating standards to improve the safeguard of cultural heritage at risk of disaster and (b) promoting structured cooperation among cultural heritage and civil protection actors at the local, national, and European levels. One of the last document published by the project is “Key Elements of a European Methodology to Address the Protection of Cultural Heritage during Emergencies“. The 219 pages report collects a large part of the outcomes of the information gathered and of the activities carried out.
The document introduction mentions that there was a need for a paradigm shift to include cultural heritage protection in disaster risk management processes, as the safeguarding of cultural heritage was not traditionally considered a part of civil protection at both national and European levels. The lack of consideration for cultural heritage in disaster risk management was seen as amplifying the underlying disaster risk drivers and undermining the ability of the system to protect communities and pursue sustainable recovery from crises.
It’s recognised that the urgency for protecting cultural heritage has increased due to the effects of climate change, rapid urbanization, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. PROCULTHER initiated a consultative process to assess and analyze existing capacities in cultural heritage protection. Each partner country established a national working group that included relevant public and private stakeholders to create reports based on consensus at the national level. These outcomes were shared during an international workshop in Rome in December 2019. An index of a common methodology to address the protection of cultural heritage at the European level was developed based on this exchange, and each country contributed to drafting the document by developing specific topics included in the index.
The subsequent phase of the PROCULTHER project involved sharing the initial document’s key outcomes within the international community. This dissemination took place during a remote international workshop held on June 7 and 9, 2021. The workshop engaged nearly 100 experts from over 30 countries, including various EU Member States, UCPM Participating States (such as Argentina, the Caribbean region, Israel, Mexico, Palestine, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America), along with 16 speakers from civil protection authorities, ministries, governmental and research institutions. This included contributions from entities like the European Commission Directorates DG-ECHO, DG-EAC, as well as international organizations like UNESCO and ICCROM. These individuals provided their insights to review the initial draft of the document.
The collaboration within PROCULTHER involved an inclusive approach, incorporating perspectives and experiences from both within and outside the project. This convergence led to a significant sharing of diverse viewpoints and expertise, aiming to guide strategies and actions for the effective protection of cultural heritage at risk of disaster. From a civil protection standpoint, the initiative was driven by the necessity to provide methodological elements for integrating cultural heritage protection into all stages of disaster risk management at various territorial levels. From a European perspective, it underscored the urgency of increasing interoperability standards to integrate cultural heritage protection within the operational structures of the UCPM. This involved defining learning processes to make enhancing cultural heritage resilience a shared objective among European Member States and UCPM Participating States.
The document, developed with a shared understanding at the European level, is focused on providing essential operational and technical aspects to address the protection of cultural heritage at risk of disasters. It aims to outline specific actions necessary for advancing preparedness and response activities in integrating the safeguarding of cultural heritage into disaster risk management, both at national and European levels.
The content delves into various structural, technical, and operational aspects to enhance the protection of cultural heritage at different territorial levels. It does not claim to cover all issues related to safeguarding cultural heritage at risk, but instead offers methods, languages, and rules that have emerged from the project’s learning and accumulation processes. These components establish a robust foundation for institutional strengthening and capacity building in this field, which can be further explored and improved in the future.
It’s important to note that the document adopts a “Do No Harm” approach and specifically addresses issues related to protecting cultural heritage at risk due to natural or human-induced disasters. Approximately 40 experts from both disaster risk management and cultural heritage fields, representing 15 different UCPM Member and Participating States, have received training based on a common standard and tools. This training has been aimed to enhance their capacity in protecting cultural heritage at risk of disaster. Thus, also the key discoveries from the training activity have been incorporated into the document.