UNESCO and Italy sign pact to handle heritage emergencies

Paris, October 29, 2004 - The United Nations cultural agency today signed its first agreement with a Member State to have a ready response team to handle emergencies that might result in damage to any of the world's heritage sites.

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, and Italian Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani signed an agreement Tuesday to protect cultural and natural sites by providing Italian expertise in assessing damage and needs and in drawing up action plans.

"Unfortunately we live in a world that is not safe from destruction caused by nature or mankind. UNESCO's mission is to prevent destruction and also to provide reconstruction assistance and, increasingly, to intervene in emergencies," Mr. Matsuura said. "In the area of heritage, Italy is one of the Organization's most important partners and one of the major contributors to its extra-budgetary funds."

Mr. Urbani said the shared experience of UNESCO and Italy in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and in North Africa was the basis upon which the new agreement was built. "It has shown us that the better we prepare, the better we are able to join forces and respond to the expectations of countries affected by conflict, or natural catastrophe," he stressed.

A recent joint project stabilized the fifth minaret of Herat in Afghanistan last October, UNESCO said. A member of the UNESCO scientific committee securing Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa, Giorgio Macchi, devised a corrective strategy for the Afghan structure and was now working on Afghanistan's minaret of Jam.