Orkney experience contributes to African climate-change project

The Sukur Cultural Landscape in Nigeria is one of two African World Heritage sites involved in the CVI-Africa project. The hilltop settlement, which dates back to the sixteenth century, will be the focus of Professor Jane Downes, director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is part of a new project focusing on the impact of climate change on African heritage sites.

Worldwide, climate change is threatening people, communities and their heritage. Africa is projected to warm more rapidly than most other regions on the planet, meaning this already vulnerable continent will be hard-hit by the impact of climate change.

The CVI-Africa project, led by institutions in Africa and the United Kingdom, will pilot the application of the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) to African World Heritage properties.

The CVI assessment tool assesses the risk to heritage by climate change and the vulnerability of associated communities based on their economic, social and cultural relationships to those values and their capacity to adapt.

It was first applied to a cultural World Heritage Site in 2019, when its focus was the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.  There, the site was found to be at risk of being destroyed within 50 years due to rising sea levels, increased storminess and rainfall but that the richness of the rest of the research meant there were options for economic and cultural sustainability.

Dr Albino Jopela of the African World Heritage Fund, a co-investigator on the project, said: “Despite the intensifying threat, there remains a lack of attention to the cultural dimensions of climate change and this is especially true here in Africa. The CVI-Africa project will help fill this gap.”

Professor Jane Downes is the director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and an expert on climate change and heritage.

She explained: “Cultural heritage in Africa is being destroyed by a number of climate change impacts. There is an urgent need to respond to this and the CVI-Africa project will work closely with heritage professionals and researchers from across the continent to better understand this ongoing challenge.

“The project has great potential to effect action on climate change through detailing the impacts of climate change on these internationally important sites.”

The project will provide training in the CVI method to six African heritage professionals and culminate in workshops at two World Heritage Sites affected by climate change.

Professor Downes will be focusing on the Sukur Cultural Landscape in the Mandara Mountains along the Cameroon-Nigeria border.

According to ICOMOS Nigeria’s Dr Ishanlosen: “Sukur reflects the complexity of assessing vulnerability. Located in the Mandara Mountains along the Cameroon-Nigeria border, the impact of climate change has induced shifts in the political and local economies, with attendant risks to cultural heritage. Supporting local communities and national authorities to develop tools that build on local experience and realities, can help them manage these risks and plan for the future. We hope that the CVI can contribute to fulfilling that need.”

The second site is the ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, in Tanzania, where climate change is already affecting the coastal monuments.

Site manager Mercy Mbogelah explained: “Although we took some adaptation measures to stop the speed of wave actions going direct to the monuments, more action and learning experiences from others is needed. For this matter the CVI-Africa project will bring us together to find more actions to reduce or stop these challenges.”

The project has been funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Global Challenges Research Fund scheme with support from the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The workshops will include the six heritage professionals, local and national experts and stakeholders and international partners.

For more details, see http://cvi-africa.org.