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Unesco Interview: Mr. Mario Hernández – Chief of the Remote Sensing Unit

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC will have the excellent opportunity of
including an interview with Mr. Mario Hernández – Chief of the Remote
Sensing Unit, with strong activities implementing partnership with
Space agencies and governments.

UNESCO adopted the World Heritage Convention (WHC) in 1972, Mr.
Mario Hernández, how the remote sensing unit is contributing to this
The main role of the UNESCO remote sensing
unit is to provide access to space technologies and in particular
remote sensing, to UNESCO’s developing Member States.
Capacity building is our major goal. In order to initiate these
activities we took as the best test cases the famous and well-known 812
World Heritage sites. UNESCO established by the end of 2001 a joint
initiative with the European Space Agency: “The Open initiative on the
use of space technologies to support the World Heritage Convention”.
This is a call to all space agencies, space research institutions and
the private sector to join this “open framework” of cooperation.
Through this Open Initiative the space
agencies are assisting UNESCO in implementing projects to monitor World
Heritage sites and UNESCO biosphere reserves from space and
strengthening therefore the associated conservation activities.
It is important to assist developing
countries in identifying, documenting and preserving our world‘s
heritage, by selecting a list of natural and cultural sites whose
outstanding values should be preserved for all humanity. Nowadays
UNESCO has 812 sites part of the world heritage programme. UNESCO
should ensure their protection through closer co-operation among
Which is the selection procedure to decide on the interest of a project among the entire world‘s heritage?
It is a difficult decision, I always could say that we have 812
problems to solve or to help to solve… we are focusing on those 33
World Heritage sites that are classified as being in danger. Our main
criteria for selection is that the associated country is willing to
work in partnership with us. We do not want that remote sensing becomes
a ‘spy’, therefore the associated country must become a strong partner.
The first programme cooperation was with the European Space Agency
running together the Build Environment for GOrilla (BEGO) project. The
BEGO project dealt with World Heritage sites in danger in Central
Africa,. These sites host the last remaining 670 mountain gorillas.
This project demonstrated the capabilities of Earth-observation
technology to provide reliable, continuous and synoptic geospatial
information to all governmental and non-governmental organizations
involved in the conservation of World Heritage sites in Dem. Rep. of
Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Thanks to the generous financial contribution
of ESA, this project, resulted in a complete, coherent and harmonized
GIS to manage mountain gorilla habitat. In addition this activity has
significantly assisted UNESCO in launching many other projects.
Definitively UNESCO is strengthening
the RS and GIS activities related to biosphere reserves natural and the
protection of World Heritage. How is the merge of information?
Remote sensing provides very valuable
information: basic maps derived form satellite images, state of
conservation, etc. These basic layers of information are then entered
into a simple GIS system for the conservation of the site at local
level. After that the local conservation authorities start merging all
their ground collected information: GPS points, reports, etc.
The integration of Earth observation,
GPS, GIS and Web services represents a significant step toward
developing efficient and cost-effective tools to support the overall
conservation process: “observe,” map and monitor protected areas
Cultural heritage professionals are
currently employing space technologies, what are your thoughts on the
impact of these technologies?
This is a completely new field of action.
It is however complex. New high-resolution images available example
Ikonos and/or Quickbird) enable now the monitor of small cultural sites
from space. However earth observation is not enough, conservation
actors are intensively using GPS on the ground in order to document the
archaeological sites with extreme detailed precision. Once all this
information is put together, conservation experts are using larger
satellite image coverage (example SPOT and or Landsat) in order to
situate the archaeological site in its overall cultural landscape. As a
results space technologies are enabling conservation experts to make
‘virtual fly-through’ ancient archaeological sites. Space provides the
overall picture!
Earth Observation could contribute
significantly to the enforcement of international rules, to better
define local-national legislation and facilitates the making of
planning policies. Thus, there is a need to promote the use of this
technology mainly in developing countries.
Is UNESCO exploring new areas of cooperation with Industry?
For several years now, the United Nations
system has attached growing importance to relations with the private
sector. It is not only that the number and scope of such relations are
growing steadily, but, above all, their nature has considerably
diversified to range beyond purely financial objectives to ensure
regular dialogue, consultation and interaction. Recent approaches to
partnership with the private sector now aim to mobilize the full range
of resources specific to the private sector in the service of
sustainable development.
At the end of the interview, here is
the opportunity for your final thoughts on your vision for the future
tasks ahead for UNESCO?
In looking to the future UNESCO seeks to
reinforce the role of space technology in its various fields of
activities, and to strengthen direct cooperation with different
partners. UNESCO has the mandate to promote international cooperation
in the fields of science, education, culture and communication bringing
together all the multidisciplinary fields. UNESCO has to facilitate the
access of space technologies for developing countries. Through its
space education activities UNESCO wants to interest younger generations
in the study of science subjects and later to chose scientific and
technological professional careers which are essential for the
development of our knowledge based society
you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to meet with EARSC.
It was very helpful to learn so much about the current projects of
UNESCO and possible collaboration with our Association.