Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.b.35

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Switzerland and Austria have nominated Avalanche risk management (No. 01380) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Avalanche risk management has shaped the identity of Alpine populations, as every winter they deal with the threat avalanches pose to inhabitants, tourists, means of communication and other vital infrastructure. Since the Alps are densely populated, the phenomenon of avalanches is a prime concern and a collective responsibility of the communities. For centuries, inhabitants and highlanders have developed local empirical knowledge, management and risk-avoidance strategies as well as cultural practices to guard themselves against avalanche hazards. Nowadays, modern tools such as measurement instruments and risk mapping complement traditional knowledge, which continues to be developed and adjusted on the ground by knowledge bearers. The element is entrenched in the everyday culture of the communities concerned and underscores the importance of solidarity in crisis situations. Assessing avalanche risks requires a sound knowledge of nature, especially the terrain, snow, weather conditions and past avalanches. While that knowledge was once transmitted verbally, nowadays it is the result of a dynamic process combining empirical knowledge and practical experience: knowledge is transferred from science to practice, and from the ground to research. Numerous training activities are offered, and those interested have access to a wide range of information sources such as avalanche bulletins, the media, checklists, websites, media, manuals and exhibitions.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   The nomination file demonstrates that avalanche risk management constitutes intangible cultural heritage and, as an inseparable part of their lives, provides local communities with a sense of identity and serves many different social and cultural functions. The element is mainly transmitted institutionally via research institutes, forecasting services, local authorities and museums. However, the informal dissemination of knowledge still plays an important role in local settings. The collective effort strengthens people’s sense of belonging to their community, whose survival depends on their capability to address problems collectively, fostering closer ties between various social groups.

R.2:   The know-how needed to live in a hostile environment and knowledge concerning natural hazards and their prevention are significant aspects of intangible cultural heritage, whose importance would be highlighted by the inscription. Inscription of the element would draw closer attention to the cultural aspects of natural hazard prevention and strengthen the linkages between intangible cultural heritage and natural sciences, with a reminder that new technologies and scientific research complement empirical knowledge and local realities. Following the inscription, contacts with communities facing similar or other dangers would be strengthened. Respect for cultural diversity and human creativity would be promoted, as the element is closely connected with local circumstances.

R.3:   The proposed safeguarding measures are clearly described in terms of concrete engagements; they will be implemented by civil society, regional and national authorities, and will count on established volunteering and professional commitment across the two nations and all strata of their societies. The safeguarding measures reflect different aspects of the element relating to the knowledge and practice concerning avalanche risk management, as well as its cultural dimension. Regulations regarding the handling of avalanches are enshrined in national laws in both countries, and the two States Parties will work to safeguard the element side by side. Knowledge bearers, often members of institutions and organizations directly and continually involved in the practice of the element, participated in the preparation of the safeguarding measures.

R.4:   Both States Parties prepared the nomination file in close collaboration with the communities and stakeholders concerned. Austrian and Swiss bearers and practitioners of the element met with national experts several times to discuss the nomination file in their respective countries. In 2016 and 2017, two joint meetings were organized in Switzerland to exchange views and ideas, strengthen contacts and validate the final version of the file. Free, prior and informed consent was obtained through information sharing within networks of practitioners at different levels.

R.5:   The element is included in the List of Living Traditions in Switzerland (2012) and the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Austria (2016), which are managed, respectively, by the Federal Office for Culture and the Austrian Commission for UNESCO. The description of both national inventories, the participation of communities in the inventorying process and the updating routines are clearly described.

  1. Inscribes Avalanche risk management on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.