UNESCO’s Heritage Emergency Fund to support heritage recovery in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

When La Soufrière volcano erupted in the north of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines covering the island in a layer of ash on 9 April 2021, it unleashed a humanitarian crisis.  More than 20,000 people were evacuated and virtually all sectors of society were affected. Cultural heritage was no exception, being impacted by significant ashfall and pyroclastic flows, a combination of lava pieces, volcanic ash, and hot gases moving as fast as 200 meters per second and temperatures as hot as 1000 degrees centigrade. The status of heritage in areas close to the volcano still remains unknown due to the area’s inaccessibility.

UNESCO’s experience shows that immediately after a disaster, people often find in heritage an essential element of material and psychological support. To be able to access one’s heritage provides a much-needed touchstone and a sense of continuity that supports resilience. With no time to waste, UNESCO mobilized its Heritage Emergency Fund to help the people of Saint Vincent rebuild.

The island is known for its rare examples of pre-Columbian rock art and numerous indigenous ceramic sites, bearing testimony to the remarkable indigenous culture that preceded colonialism. In particular, there is concern about preserving the intangible heritage of the Kalinagos and Garifuna, populations of mixed origin, incorporating cultural elements of indigenous Caribbean and African groups for which there is little documentation.

Our culture and heritage speak to who we are and from whence we came and should we not try as best as we can to preserve our heritage – be it tangible and intangible – we would be like a “lost generation” leaving nothing behind…
Maxine Browne, Intangible Cultural Heritage Focal Point Person

Working with national and local authorities, such as the Caribbean Heritage Emergency Network (CHEN) and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Fund will focus on documenting and assessing the state of moveable, immovable, and intangible heritage on the island. It will also provide training to people in the community on conservation and how to clean, maintain and protect different types of heritage threatened by volcanic ashfall.

The eruption has changed our land and seascape, so let us use this opportunity to preserve as best we can- our tangible and intangible heritage.
The Very Reverend O. Samuel Nichols, Dean and Rector/Board of Trustees/member, St George’s Cathedral

This project has been financed by UNESCO's Heritage Emergency Fund through the generous support of the following partners: the Qatar Fund for Development, the Kingdom of Norway, the Government of Canada, ANA Holdings INC., the Principality of Monaco, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Republic of Estonia, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Slovak Republic, the Principality of Andorra, and the Republic of Serbia.