One hundred-thirty-nine properties in Africa are on UNESCO's World Heritage List, and there are thousands more treasured heritage places and traditions. Africa's rich tapestry of World Heritage and other heritage sites face a growing threat: climate change. Even though people take great care of their heritage, climate change is one of the main threats to the integrity of the world's natural and cultural sites. To counter this threat in Africa, it is essential to find innovative mechanisms for adaptive management and to include young people in the development of climate action plans and decision-making. A new generation of heroes is emerging, with knowledge, passion and innovative ideas to protect their heritage. 

20240408_The 7th African World Heritage Youth Forum_ICCROM

Equipping the next generation of conservationists 

The 7th African World Heritage Youth Forum, held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, 4–8 March, brought together young Africans brimming with ideas for climate action. This intensive program organized by ICCROM, through our Youth.Heritage.Africa programme and partners — African World Heritage Fund (AWHF), UNESCO and Great Zimbabwe University — provided them with the tools they need to succeed:  

  • Understanding climate change risks and their impact on heritage sites 
  • Crafting strategies for adaptation and mitigation 
  • Building strong relationships with local communities 
  • Developing innovative solutions for sustainable preservation 

The virtual phase of the forum — held 15–19 January — equipped 50 young people with theoretical knowledge, while the in-person session in Bulawayo allowed them to hone their skills through practical workshops and discussions. 

ICCROM Director-General Aruna Francesca Maria Gujral tuned in remotely to offer words of encouragement to the Forum participants. "Young people are not only aware of the challenges and risks raised by the climate crisis, and are directly confronted with them, but they are also capable, through active engagement and concrete action, of finding long-term solutions in an integrated and systemic way, towards economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development", she stated.  

The Director-General also added that, at the end of the Forum, the young participants will have acquired even more knowledge and expertise to assess the impact of climate change on heritage and propose innovative and effective responses that will contribute to the long-term protection of World Heritage attributes and values.  

20240408_The 7th African World Heritage Youth Forum_ICCROM

Three stand-out projects receive seed grants & technical support 

Out of the 20 innovative projects presented by the young heritage leaders, three stood out and were selected by the jury to receive support: 

  1. Protecting the White kingdom "dirre sheikh hussein" (by Ms. Hildana Wendesen Tadesse, Ethiopia) 

This project seeks to foster community engagement in preserving and protecting Sheikh Hussein, a historically and spiritually significant heritage site in Bale, Oromia, Ethiopia, facing risks such as structural deterioration, erosion, damage to its integrity and disruption of the spiritual and visitor experience. 

  1. Ogbunike Cave: My Home, My Heritage (by Ms. Jennifer Obiorah, Nigeria) 

This project aims to protect the cultural and spiritual significance of Nigeria's Ogwumike Cave from environmental threats like rainfalls, drought, and warming temperatures, exacerbated by unsustainable tourist practices. By building eco-toilets using Adobe and plastic waste, it seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

  1. Preservation and Resilience: Safeguarding Kore Cultural Heritage Against Climate Change (by Mr. Darius Saviour Ankamah, Ghana) 

This project aims to promote heritage preservation and foster community resilience in Kore, a sacred cultural site in Ghana known for its diversity of bird species yet threatened by climate change. It seeks to reduce emissions while conserving its biodiversity and ecosystems. 

The three winning projects will receive funding and technical support to implement their ideas. This will not only provide local, participative and inclusive solutions for better restoration and sustainable preservation of the selected sites in the face of the impacts of climate change but will also promote the employability of young African professionals. 

20240408_The 7th African World Heritage Youth Forum_ICCROM

Youth are a beacon of hope for the future of heritage in Africa 

Reflecting on the importance of this Forum and its various activities, Djify Elugba Kabamba, a participant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told us: "This has given us a unique opportunity to engage with members of local communities, who play an essential role in implementing measures to safeguard their heritage and cultural practices against the effects of climate change. We are all committed to working together to protect our shared heritage and ensure a sustainable future for all.”  

The 7th African World Heritage Youth Forum is a beacon of hope, showcasing the dedication and ingenuity of young Africans determined to protect their heritage from climate change for future generations.