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News

BeGO:  Satellites to focus on UNESCO World Heritage sites
2003-06-24
Earth Observation satellites will help safeguard hundreds of natural and cultural World Heritage sites, under the terms of an agreement signed by ESA and UNESCO at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and ESA Director-General Antonio Rodotà launched the Open Initiative partnership on Wednesday 18 June. The intention is to have other space agencies progressively join the partnership, and help developing nations monitor World Heritage sites on their territories more effectively.

ESA and UNESCO are already co-operating in a joint project called BeGo (Build Environment for Gorilla) funded by the Data User Programme to use satellite data to map remote mountain parks in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These parks are either World Heritage sites or candidate sites, making up the last refuge of the less than 600 mountain gorillas still alive. But human encroachment on the parks in search of fuel, farmland and hunting threatens the gorillas' survival.

There are 730 different sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list – 563 of them cultural, 144 natural and 23 both. UNESCO considers 33 of them currently under threat. The idea of the Open Initiative is that data from space will be used to monitor these sites, alerting authorities to land use changes that could place the sites in danger. Following ESA’s agreement with UNESCO NASA is near to following suit and there have also been requests to join the Open Initiative from the Indian, Japanese, Canadian and Brazilian space agencies.

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