Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.B.17

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland have nominated Traditional irrigation: knowledge, technique and organization (No. 01979) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Traditional irrigation uses gravity and hand-made constructions such as channels and ditches to distribute water from naturally-occurring water catchment points (such as springs, streams and glaciers) to the fields. Practitioners choose specific days and periods to manually divert the water, and the beginning or end of the watering season is often accompanied by social gatherings and festivities. Traditional irrigation requires a profound understanding of the natural landscape, water flow and weather conditions, as well as close cooperation between those responsible for the distribution of the water (such as farmers and landowners) and others involved in the maintenance of the physical structures (such as water cooperatives and local authorities). The practice is typically passed on to younger generations informally, through observation and training from experienced members, although cooperatives, associations, scholars and institutions also play an important role in the transmission of knowledge. For practitioners, traditional irrigation and the centuries-old channel systems related to the practice are strong identity markers. The practice is tied to a specific vocabulary, and the knowledge required (such as an understanding of the impact of the lunar cycle on water flow and skills related to woodworking) can be applied to other aspects of the lives of bearers and surrounding communities.

  1. Considers 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:   Traditional irrigation aims to optimize crop growth by distributing water from natural catchment points to fields, thus enhancing soil moisture, fertility and crop yield. Efficient functions of traditional irrigation are based on close cooperation and knowledge exchange among stakeholders at all stages. The wide range of stakeholders and practitioners includes farmers, their families, landowners, water cooperatives, associations, local authorities and scholars. The specific roles of the main stakeholders and local approaches to transmit related knowledge are classified and described. The social functions and cultural meanings associated with traditional irrigation are well presented. The element is linked to many cultural expressions, including a rich specific vocabulary. The deep connection between practitioners and their landscapes is emphasized and aligns with Sustainable Development Goal 6 (Clean water and sanitation) of the 2030 Agenda.

R.2:   At the local level, inscription would emphasize the link between intangible cultural heritage and the local environment, leading to the creation of educational activities within the community. At the national level, it would encourage collaboration among public and private actors working on sustainable development, facilitating the dissemination of traditional knowledge and techniques. At the international level, inscription would strengthen cooperation among stakeholders and promote new collaborations on living heritage, particularly around addressing ecological challenges. The file states that many aspects of the element would positively influence international debates on various Sustainable Development Goals.

R.3:   The International Center of Traditional Irrigation in Switzerland (IZTB) created in 2021 became the umbrella organization and collects documentation on traditional irrigation from all over Europe. The submitting States protect the element through legal regulations, and some States provide financial support. National and international safeguarding measures for transmission and education include coordinating workshops and events to make the practice accessible throughout the year, facilitating cooperation with museums, developing new transnational initiatives, and increasing cooperation with agricultural technical schools. The bearers and practitioners were involved in the identification of risk factors and the preparation of the safeguarding measures. The file describes the role of the States in supporting the implementation of the proposed safeguarding measures. Promotion and enhancement measures will be implemented through an online international platform, which will be complemented by nationally operated websites. A set of safeguarding measures is being proposed to mitigate any unintended effects of inscription that could have a negative impact on the viability of the element.

R.4:   The file demonstrates that the inscription of the element was initiated by the international groups of bearers. The process began in 2005 through a coordinating body. The communities were involved in all stages of the preparation of the nomination. The joint and separate activities of the States concerned are clearly described. The coordinating country and a delegation of practitioners formed the editorial group that compiled the nomination file. The approaches of each country to involve the communities in order to include their visions, comments and suggestions varied according to local conditions. The bearers and practitioners from all participating countries gave their free, prior and informed consent to the joint nomination. The letters of consent were mainly signed by male representatives, which reflect the current state of the element’s practice. Nevertheless, the file states that there is a tendency towards increased involvement of women in the traditional irrigation practice. Access to and training in traditional irrigation is not restricted by any customary practices. However, the practice itself is tied to the regulatory systems (Rods), the legal framework on water usage in each country, as well as the accessibility of areas.

R.5:   Each State provided comprehensive information on national inventories, giving their names, inclusion dates, responsible organizations and updating frequency. The earliest addition took place in 2012 and the most recent in 2021. The administration of the inventories is carried out by governmental departments, local authorities, national commissions, or a combination of these entities. The active participation of community members in the identification of the elements and the preparation of the nominations for national inventories is emphasized by all submitting States. The updating frequency of the inventories varies from twice per year to every five years to align with periodic reporting requirements.

  1. Decides to inscribe Traditional irrigation: knowledge, technique and organization on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the States Parties for their collaboration in the preparation of a file that can serve as a good example of a multinational nomination for an element of living heritage that is closely connected with the environment and that demonstrates the sustainable use of natural resources.