IPI MENA hosted a webinar on November 3rd entitled “Cultural Heritage & COVID in the Arab Region: Assessment & Perspectives,” where experts called for greater efforts to ensure protection and conservation of cultural heritage, during pandemic situations.
During his opening remarks, IPI MENA Director Nejib Friji emphasized the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the cultural sector and world heritage sites, which has borne high costs both economically and socially. He poignantly underlined UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay’s call to face our current “cultural heritage crisis.”
Participants debated how the pandemic has added to the cultural crisis they had already been facing for decades. In particular, the short-term impacts due to restrictions on in-person gatherings, that limited access to cultural sites and hence caused an unprecedented economic and social crisis.
The long-term disastrous economic effect on the cultural sector as a whole, which represents just above 6% of the global economy, was also emphasized. Not to mention, the loss of revenues from the decline in tourism as well as funding cuts by governments which in turn, exasperated this crisis by halting numerous urgent preservation projects.
However, there were hopes that the cultural sector would come back stronger than before by accelerating adaptability and modernization—with the advancement and availability of technology adapted specifically to the cultural world. Museums have begun to digitalize their content, which acts as a safeguard of knowledge, moving towards online museums in a “new normal” era. Advanced communication strategies including video-conferencing have also enabled the continuation of ongoing projects that would otherwise not be accessible.
Panelists reiterated the devastating effects of the pandemic on cultural heritage, and why collective action and multilateral cooperation is urgently needed in order to prevent any further losses brought about by the crises.
Participants included Mr. Mounir Bouchenaki, Advisor to the Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities (BACA) and UNESCO, Paris; Dr. Hayet Guettat, Director of Culture at the Arab League Educational, Cultural & Scientific Organization (ALECSO) Headquarters, Tunis; Dr. Zaki Aslan, Regional Representative of ICCROM for the Arab States and Director of the ICCROM in the Sharjah office, UAE; Dr. Karim Hendili, Chief of Culture at the UNESCO Regional Office for Maghreb in Rabat, and Culture Focal Point of the “Li Beirut” Initiative Taskforce at the Office of the Director-General of UNESCO in Paris.