1st LD-Writethru: Dialogue considers protecting World Heritage with space technologies

HEFEI, May 27 (Xinhua) -- An international dialogue on the use of space technologies in World Heritage protection kicked off on Tuesday at China's Mount Huangshan, a UNESCO natural and cultural heritage site and global geopark.

Representatives of UNESCO-designated places, including World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and UNESCO-affiliated Global Geoparks, gathered together for the first time for a four-day dialogue.

The dialogue is aimed at boosting communication and cooperation among UNESCO-designated sites, and enhancing protection, management and sustainable development of these places through space technologies, said Hong Tianhua, secretary-general of the dialogue's organizing committee.

As the number of UNESCO-designated places has increased in recent years, their protection and management have become more challenging. The rapid development of space technologies, such as aeronautical, astronautical and ground-based monitoring, has made them one of the key means of solving global environmental and development issues, said Hong, also executive deputy director of the International Center on Space Technologies for Natural and Cultural Heritages (HIST).

Established in July 2011, the Beijing-based HIST is under the auspices of UNESCO and hosted by the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth (RADI) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). It aims to provide technical services to UNESCO and its member states on the use of space technologies for UNESCO-designated places.

More than 160 representatives from such sites in 23 countries attended the dialogue, which was organized by the HIST and RADI and hosted by the Mount Huangshan Administrative Committee.

Kishore Rao, director of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre, said the most commonly encountered management challenges for World Heritage sites are lack of clarity on boundaries, unauthorized construction and development, illegal use of resources and extractive activities, as well as building of transport infrastructure.

"All these factors are responsive to the use of space technologies, which can be important tools for planning, management and monitoring purposes," Rao said.

Space technologies can provide a current view of an ongoing natural or man-made disaster to enable managers to plan for effective response and mitigation measures, as well as time-series imagery to observe the evolution of phenomena or threats such as encroachments, deforestation, degradation and collapse, unauthorized construction, and flooding to contribute to the devising of appropriate response strategies, he said.

Guo Huadong, a CAS academic and director with the HIST, said space technologies are better than ground monitoring when it comes to large heritages sites, such as the Great Wall and the Silk Road. Dynamic and consecutive data collected by space technologies will also serve as important references while evaluating the protection efforts of a World Heritage site, he added.

Considering the high cost of space technology and related products, such as satellite images and aerial photographs, Rao advised agencies to provide such products for World Heritage conservation and management purposes as a part of their corporate social responsibility agenda and make them available free of charge to those users who cannot afford them.