East African stakeholders review links between living heritage and climate change

Slide from the presentation by Nigel Crawhall, Chief of Section UNESCO Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems

On 30 April 2021, UNESCO mobilized over 55 stakeholders from the Eastern Africa region to participate in an online conference to share the results of seven case studies, which were carried out within the framework of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the UNESCO Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme as part of a pilot project to support research and documentation of traditional knowledge systems linked to biodiversity conservation, climate change and disaster risk reduction.

The UNESCO 2003 Convention recognizes the contribution of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) to environmental sustainability, including in the areas of sustainable natural resource management and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Traditional knowledge systems, oral traditions, rituals and practices, accumulated and renewed by communities across generations as part of their intangible cultural heritage, can play an important role alongside scientific knowledge and policies in sustaining, regenerating, conserving and governing biodiversity. Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage not only serves to transmit knowledge and skills about the environment, but also shapes a certain relationship to nature, usually fostering notions of respect, custodianship and connectivity towards the natural environment.

Following a call for proposals issued by UNESCO in January 2021, the following case studies were carried out as part of the pilot project:

  • Eritrea: Research and documentation of Traditional Knowledge Systems on biodiversity conservation and climate change: experience from Lamza Village, Eritrea (Eritrean Commission of Culture and Sports);
  • Ethiopia: Indigenous Knowledge System and Biodiversity: the Case of Gedeo, South Ethiopia (Addis Ababa University);
  • Kenya: Role of Indigenous Knowledge and Practices in Biodiversity Conservation, Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction among Pastoral Communities in Kenya (National Museums of Kenya);
  • Uganda: Traditional knowledge systems and the conservation of water bodies and aquatic life in Uganda (Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda);
  • Somalia: Somali oral heritage as a vehicle for biodiversity conservation (Somaliland Youth Development and Voluntary Organization);
  • Seychelles: The Creole Garden and Kitchen Pharmacy in Seychelles (University of Seychelles);
  • South Sudan: The Role of Traditional Knowledge Systems on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction in Eastern Africa: A Case Study of South Sudan Flood and/ or Desert Locusts Invasion in 2019 and 2020 (Mark Oloya Nekemiah).

The case studies were guided by a research brief developed by UNESCO in collaboration with an international Advisory Panel established as part of the pilot project. The final case studies will be featured in a UNESCO PDF publication and made widely available to  researchers and the public through UNESCO and partners’ web sites.

Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa opened the conference by noting that the results of this research will be widely used by Member States, UNESCO and our partners.

These case studies will guide national inventories and safeguarding strategies. They will contribute to UNEP African Group of Negotiators on biodiversity and the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. They may also be used in the ICCROM-UNDRR Guidebook currently under preparation on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Disaster Risk Reduction. And the research will also inform the newly formed UNESCO Advisory Panel on Culture and Climate Change.
Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

Participants in the online conference included national and international experts, Directors for Culture, Museum Directors, representatives from universities, National Commissions for UNESCO and local communities as well as institutional partners including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM).

The conference was closed by Mr. Tim Curtis, Secretary of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Chief of the Living Heritage Entity, UNESCO, who highlighted that:

ICH is a valuable resource for communities to strengthen resilience, reduce vulnerabilities and help communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. This is why the safeguarding of living heritage is of utmost importance and indivisible from the protection of the lives and wellbeing of its bearers…. Beyond the identification of living heritage practices that contribute to mitigating the impact of climate change and natural disasters, we need to work together to support communities in ensuring the safeguarding of their heritage when affected by crises and fostering the integration of living heritage into emergency preparedness, response and recovery plans and programmes.
Mr. Tim Curtis, Secretary, 2003 Convention & Chief of the Living Heritage Entity, UNESCO

For more information on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Programme, please see: